Joe Biden? Really?

Joe Biden is affable, experienced, and believes in the dignity of a hard-earned paycheck. But does that make him the best choice for Democrats in 2020? (Photo Credit: World Economic Forum/Manuel Lopez/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA-2.0)

According to a recent poll of 455 likely Democratic caucus-goers from the state of Iowa, Joe Biden is their top choice for president in 2020 at 32%. Bernie Sanders comes in second at 19%, followed by Beto O’Rourke at 11%. Elizabeth Warren (8%) and Kamala Harris (5%) round out the top five, assuming you don’t include “Not sure” as part of this ranking.

Observers will point out this is a very early poll. For the sake of an example, Jeb Bush had a comfortable lead at this point in 2014—and we all know how that eventually turned out.

Nevertheless, these poll results hint at what Democratic supporters’ priorities might be leading up to 2020. With Biden leading the pack, political experience and a perceived ability to stand up to Donald Trump appear to be key factors in voters’ decision-making process. In the language of the poll, they prefer a “seasoned hand” to that of a “newcomer.”

As a reaction to Trump, this predilection for the former vice president is understandable. Trump, the outlandish outsider, has demonstrated what damage a neophyte with a questionable temperament for the job can do. That said, is Biden really who the Dems want to represent them in the next presidential election?

If you ask Frank Bruni, New York Times columnist, the answer is heck, no. Bruni, despite liking Biden, urges him not to run for president. Here’s Bruni’s opening salvo from a recent column:

You’d agree, wouldn’t you, that Consideration No. 1 in choosing a Democratic nominee in 2020 is making sure that the person is best positioned to defeat Donald Trump? That nothing else comes close? Then what would you say if I told you that we should put our chips on a man who failed miserably at two previous campaigns for the nomination, the first one back in 1988, a year before Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born? And that when he applied the lessons from that debacle to his second bid two decades later, he did no better, placing fifth in the Iowa caucuses, getting fewer than 1 percent of the state’s delegates, and folding his tent before even the New Hampshire primary?

And that he spent nearly 45 years in Washington, a proper noun that’s a dirty word in presidential politics? And that his record includes laws and episodes that are reviled — rightly — by the female and black voters so integral to the Democratic Party? And that, on Election Day, he would be 77, which is 31 years older than Bill Clinton was in 1992, 30 years older than Barack Obama was in 2008, and a complete contradiction of the party’s success over the past half-century with relatively youthful candidates?

You’d tell me that I was of unsound mind. Well, Joe Biden’s boosters are.

But tell us how you really feel, Frank. In analyzing the general election prospects of a man who sounds a lot like he’s about to run for president, Bruni is critical of the pitch Biden is making for a Democratic Party nomination. Which, at this point, mostly amounts to him touting his qualifications. Hillary Clinton is supremely qualified for the top political office in the country based on her experience. Donald Trump is, well, not. But it was Trump who won the 2016 election. In this political climate, experience might not be all that it’s cracked up to be.

This is not to say that Biden isn’t a great guy at heart. As Bruni feels, he’s a devoted political servant and family man, as well as someone with the inner strength and the requisite knowledge to match his aspired role. He’s “real.” 

Still, there are some not-so-savory elements of Biden’s political career. Though he has since apologized for not being able to “do more for” her—Biden has been criticized for his part in questioning Anita Hill during the 1991 confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas. His questions have been characterized as reflecting a remarkable tone-deafness, and while he avers he always believed Hill’s testimony, his demeanor at the time suggests otherwise.

As Bruni underscores, Biden also merits scrutiny/criticism for his ties to the banking industry and support of a 2005 bill that made it more difficult for consumers to win protection under bankruptcy, as well as his role in drafting a 1994 crime bill that some analysts and activist groups allege did damage to communities of color and helped fuel America’s mass incarceration problem.

On the latter, Biden has repeatedly defended the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The victims of institutional racism and the war on drugs, however, might take issue with this badge of honor.

Plus, and with all due respect, he’s an old white dude. This isn’t necessarily a disqualifying factor; look at how popular Bernie Sanders is with young people. Still, as a D.C. insider who doesn’t signal a move of the Democratic Party in a new, progressive direction, he’s a questionable choice in their bid to unseat Trump from the Oval Office. 

Bruni closes with these thoughts on Biden’s prospective candidacy:

He has said that he’ll decide in the next month or two whether to run — whether he’s willing to spend that much time away from his grandchildren. For their sake, I hope he stays on the sidelines. For our sake, too.

As a Bernie supporter from last election, I’m definitely biased in his favor relative to Biden. But when ol’ Amtrak Joe would seem to be a poor choice next to others in the field with less experience, too, I tend to agree with Mr. Bruni.


In deference to Joe Biden and responding to Frank Bruni’s dismissal of his earlier runs, while his past presidential campaigns have fizzled out, Biden stands a better chance now that he has more name recognition having served as vice president. Assuming Hillary Clinton doesn’t run in 2020—and that’s no guarantee, mind you—he’s got name recognition and probably would have the backing of establishment Democrats should he survive the nomination process.

I also don’t think Biden’s age is the problem that some make it out to be. Sure, people may see young progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the future of the Democratic Party, and deservedly so. (If you think like Matthew Yglesias, you might be ready to usher her into the White House, but let’s wait until she actually is of age and has served a day in the House of Representatives, shall we?)

In the meantime, the Dems have an election to win and it’s not as if people like Biden and Bernie Sanders have serious physical or mental health concerns that would prevent them from serving. Age is just a number, and what matters most are a person’s ideals and capability for the office, not their gender, race, religion, or any other identifying characteristic.

Saying Biden is recognizable and competent enough to be president of the United States is not an endorsement, though. In a piece from 2017 reacting to a blog post Biden wrote for his namesake institute at the University of Delaware about choosing a future that “puts work first,” Bill Scher, writing for POLITICO, discusses Biden’s platform being essentially a rejection of populism, whether the kind exploited by Donald Trump and his ilk in their pitch to Republican voters or the sort championed by Bernie Sanders as a means of saving the Democratic Party, well, from itself.

Scher’s piece is a lengthy one, and merits a full read, if nothing else, for its dissection of Biden’s views on universal basic income, Silicon Valley executives, corporations, and the “dignity” of one’s work. His closing remarks, however, do nicely sum up Biden’s strengths and his potential weaknesses ahead of a probable presidential run:

With all this in mind, there’s one major question left that Biden has to consider before he runs: Does he have a shot? He’s an old white man at a time when many Democratic voters are hungry for fresh faces. However, he’s also a commanding presence who would likely enter a field overcrowded with rookies stepping on one another’s populist toes. And he’s just as comfortable talking about the old days at the local auto show as he is embracing multiculturalism. He can seamlessly shift from celebrating the American worker to confronting the scourge of domestic violence (as he touts one of his big Senate legacies, the Violence Against Women Act) to the importance of LGBT rights (and reminding how he publicly nudged President Obama on gay marriage.)

If nothing else, Biden has a path. It’s a path that diverges from left-wing and right-wing populism; a path that seeks partnership between workers and corporations, unity across racial and gender lines, and reverence for higher education and the idea that you can work your way to a better life if given the right tools.

But walking that path will require a few more signature policy ideas, and a whole lot of Scranton charm. If anyone can make everyone believe he’s on their side—and in turn, erase many of the divides wracking the American electorate—it may well be the fast-talkin’, back-slappin’, gaffe-makin’ God-love-him Uncle Joe.

Biden is indeed someone with working class appeal, whether or not you buy into the authenticity of his image. This aspect of Amtrak Joe’s character is undoubtedly why Barack Obama chose him as his running mate. At a time when the backing of working-class whites, traditionally a bastion of Democratic Party support, is far from a guarantee with job losses affecting the manufacturing sector and union membership on the apparent decline, Biden’s ability to connect on a personal level with voters in crucial swing states is not to be undersold.

All the same, Biden, at least at present, lacks a big idea that can inspire across voting blocs. Repugnant as many of us may find it, Trump rode the vision of a wall at the Mexican border to electoral victory—and appears prepared to shut down the federal government over this issue, still insisting to anyone who will listen that Mexico will pay for it. Simply put, Biden will need more, on top of a credible, complete platform amid a crowded Democratic field.

Accordingly, and to bring Bruni’s objections back into the mix, Joe Biden is a risky proposition for Democrats leading up to 2020, with or without a signature policy proposal and especially if he keeps touting 90s-era crime legislation that critics increasingly see as problematic as views evolve and conflicts between groups persist. Even as he has his share of admirers, it may be better for his legacy, the Democratic Party, and all of us if he passes on a 2020 presidential bid.

“I Feel Like My Voice Doesn’t Matter”: On Why Americans Don’t (or Can’t) Vote

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Maybe the problem with our democracy is not so much with voters and non-voters as it is with choosing the wrong candidates (read: not Bernie Sanders) and rigging the system in favor of moneyed interests. (Photo Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

This is not what democracy looks like.

Despite America’s much-ballyhooed status as “land of the free and home of the brave,” when it comes to voting, a significant portion of the U.S. population remains unwilling or unable to cast their ballots in elections up and down tickets. A recent report for NPR by Asma Khalid, Don Gonyea, and Leila Fadel entitled “On the Sidelines of Democracy: Exploring Why So Many Americans Don’t Vote” plumbs the depths of this modern electoral reality.

First, a matter of statistics. According to the authors’ data, only about 60% of eligible voters cast ballots in 2016. If 2010 and 2014 are any indication, meanwhile, turnout for midterm elections is only expected to be about 40%. As the NPR piece insists, it can’t be known for sure how many elections might have experienced different outcomes had all or a even a larger majority come out to the polls.

However, as the report is also keen to stress, voting doesn’t just decide winners and losers. It influences what policies candidates enact upon getting into office. What’s more, it affects how these politicians interact with would-be supporters and which interests they appeal to. In other words, rather than depicting campaign platforms as static and resistant to change, Khalid et al. see them as malleable under the right outside pressure.

What’s particularly disturbing about the who, what, and why of voters vs. non-voters is that research shows these two groups have appreciably different views on matters of policy. The findings of Jan Leighley cited within the NPR piece suggest non-voters are more likely to support programs which expand the social safety net and policies which effect a redistribution of wealth.

This is before we even get to the matter of those who can’t vote, whether because of criminal records, registration issues, or other “irregularities.” The authors place this subset of the population in the hundreds of thousands, a significant number when considering some recent elections have been decided by mere hundreds of votes.

But non-voters who can vote and choose not to are at the crux of Khalid’s, Gonyea’s, and Fadel’s piece. Using data from L2, a non-partisan voter file vendor (you can read about the exact methodology in the linked article), NPR analyzed what separates voters from non-voters. Though the specific circumstances vary from place to place, the authors isolated four factors: age, income, education level, and habits.

In talking to young adults from Las Vegas, the common refrain was that they didn’t know enough about politics or even voting, for that matter, to cast ballots. This echoes the findings of Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of CIRCLE, an initiative at Tufts University which looks at youth civic and political participation.

Not only are young people potentially confused about what voting entails, but they are generally pessimistic about its ability to bring about positive change. As they tend to be more itinerant than other age groups, they also feel less connected to the issues affecting where they live. Or they’re “too busy.” Or they don’t feel inspired by many political candidates. Whatever the underlying reason(s), by not voting, young adults are making it that much more likely candidates will opt not to court them in future elections in favor of groups that come out more strongly.

In McDowell County, West Virginia, the issues of class and education loom largest. The median annual income in Welch, WV, the county seat, is only about $25,000 a year. Once again, there’s the perception that no matter who is in office, their county gets the proverbial short end of the stick and is all but ignored by politicians.

Going back to Jan Leighley’s research, class more than any other variable promotes a voting discrepancy; nearly 80% of high-income earners vote, as opposed to only about 50% of low-income earners. As having a college degree makes a person that much more able to secure employment and start a career, it is no wonder education level is a factor as well. Throw in the need to work multiple jobs and other potential responsibilities, and voting certainly stands to be less of a priority.

As for El Paso, Texas, the NPR study found low Latinx turnout. At least in El Paso County, there are specific reasons which may combine to explain why over 60% of registered voters don’t come out to the polls. Part of the reason may be that immigrant families may not be familiar with voting, and that children of immigrants born here may not have had their parents serve as models in this regard. This may help inform why Asian-American voter participation is also low. Additionally, Texas hasn’t been a politically competitive state for decades now. Plus, El Paso doesn’t exactly have a good track record with respect to corrupt public officials, so there’s that, too.

Still, as Khalid et al. show, it’s not just in Texas that Latinx voters are disproportionately staying home, even when candidates for public office like Donald Trump are painting Mexicans with broad strokes as criminals and rapists. In addition to the idea that Latinxs feel a disconnect with the political process—this is emerging as a common theme across demographics—the reality is that voter outreach to non-voters is, as the article puts it, “anemic.” Rather than try to engage non-voters, candidates will plumb voter files for people who do vote frequently and try to reach out to them. This does not bode well for a robust increase in voter turnout.

Perhaps on some level, one sympathizes with political campaigns on this last note. As the NPR article states outright, “It’s more expensive and time consuming to chase down infrequent voters.” Inconvenient as this truth might be, though, it doesn’t provide a solution going forward. This is not meant as a criticism of the report, which appears to be well-researched and incisive. Nonetheless, it’s a limitation, as complex as any potential solution to low voter turnout may be.

Thus, for all the report’s valuable insights, it’s, well, kind of a downer. Maybe this is unavoidable in the face of stark electoral realities, but for those of us seeking an inspired and inspiring path to action, we’ll have to look elsewhere for answers.


My time as a frequent voter and political observer has been admittedly brief. However, rather than take the tack of many to harangue the non-voting among us into submission—Lord knows I’ve received my fair share of vote shaming despite actually going out to the polls—I tend to focus on how the voting process can be reformed and how the major parties should do better given their prominence.

At the risk of oversimplification, a big way to generate more enthusiasm for voting is to produce better candidates who run on genuinely attractive platforms. In this sense, the person(s) behind the campaign are less important than the ideas and ideals they embrace. Why else would Bernie Sanders, a septuagenarian secular Jew from Vermont with a Brooklyn accent, be so popular among people who follow politics, especially young people?

This is, of course, not to say that Bernie’s 2016 campaign and stances were perfect. For instance, his positions on foreign policy issues at times lacked nuance, and his defense of gun ownership and gun manufacturers when gun violence is such a hot topic (mostly because Americans keep getting shot and killed at rates far surpassing those of other developed countries) was characterized as out of touch. I, for one, support his views on not going after manufacturers unless they behave unethically or illegally, but I also recognize his defense of attitudes from a state that prizes hunting as a tradition as a liability for a presidential run.

As some might even aver, Sanders is really a one-issue candidate. That one issue, however, is a central one: widening income/wealth inequality and the dissolution of power and viability of the working class. It’s a problem that some of us can afford to ignore, but the vast majority can’t.

Accordingly, when Bernie talks about these subjects as well as getting money out of politics (the “rigged economy” train of thought), it resonates. Take the example of health care. When Americans have to choose between paying medical bills and buying basic necessities, that’s not merely due to poor choices—it speaks to a broken system. It’s no wonder he and candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who espouse similar views (including advocacy for Medicare for All) have captured the imagination of so many people.

It should be stressed that great candidates don’t just grow on trees. Part of producing better candidates is being able to choose from a deeper pool. I’m not just talking about “diversity” in the narrow sense of ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other identifying characteristics, though these are important. I mean more individuals with a progressive mindset should be running for office. This is easier said than done when people have families and jobs and lives. You know, better people than me.

Nevertheless, along these lines, party leaders should make the effort to reduce or lower the barriers for civic and political engagement. Part of this is demystifying the voting process and the ability of running for office. While I don’t feel we should necessarily encourage people to make ill-informed decisions, there’s also the matter of other voters caring about one issue or choosing based on ugly prejudices (see also “President Donald J. Trump”). In all, it would appear to be a wash. The same goes with candidates for public office. For every noble statesman or stateswoman to serve in an official capacity, there’s someone who is ill-qualified for their role and/or good for nothing else but running for office (once again, see also “President Donald J. Trump”). As the saying goes, this is politics, not rocket science.

When politicians are not compromised by their obedience to moneyed interests, and when the threshold for political participation is more reasonable (i.e. fewer fundraisers charging several hundred dollars a head), only then, I believe, will we set the stage for a meaningful dialog between elected representatives and their constituents. This includes town hall meetings with residents—you know, ones to which officials actually show and field questions rather than ditching them and complaining about unfair treatment. You ran presumably because you wanted to serve your state/town/what-have-you. Do your job.

I speak about these things in the abstract, realizing full well it is difficult to bring about positive change. To reiterate, easier said than done. It takes time, effort, and cooperation forged through a shared vision. Then again, no one said it would be easy, and furthermore, the desired outcomes are worth the struggle. We as a nation have to do better when it comes to voter turnout. The alternative is to stay home and ensure that our needs continue to go unanswered and our voices remain unheard.

 

Right-to-Work—Not Right, Especially Not for Workers

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Sure, right-to-work has nothing to do with the actual right to work and depresses wages for union and non-union workers, but let’s keep misleading people and extolling its virtues. (Photo Credit: Darron Cummings/AP)

I consider my father to be an intelligent individual. Before recently retiring, he worked for several decades as an accountant, and toward the end of his gainful employment, he also served as a human resources director of sorts, absorbing most of the functions that a full-time, HR-exclusive professional would for a small business. He is quick-witted, has a good sense of humor, and continually tries to improve himself by challenging himself physically and mentally. With respect to politics, however, I feel his judgment lately is somewhat suspect, especially as it errs on the side of the conservative. My parents are both lifelong Democrats, and at one point, Dad even joked that he would vote for an ax murderer if he were a Democrat rather than a Republican. (My father does not deny outright that he said this, but he does not admit it either, and legitimately or not, claims not to remember this statement.)

With this personal political history in mind, it caused the rest of the family great concern earlier in the 2016 presidential campaign when Dad said he was considering voting for Donald Trump. For someone on the Republican ticket, Trump’s legacy as a conservative was notably lacking, so the idea that the family patriarch would be considering a vote for a GOP candidate was not immediately so alarming. His apparent support for Trump, a grade-A asshole, meanwhile, was. Mom, an avowed believer in Hillary Clinton, if for no other reason than wanting to see a woman become President, belabored the point whenever the election or politics came up. Dad responded by saying that he liked Trump because he was straightforward and “not a politician.” On this note, I agreed that politicians and politics as usual had justifiably driven resistance to “establishment” or “mainstream” figures within both parties, and thereby had helped fuel the billionaire’s appeal. But electing Donald Trump as President of the United States, I argued, was like, because you didn’t enjoy Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, burning down the whole library in protest. Even as a symbolic gesture, a vote for Trump was a vote for hate and a vote against reason and, you know, actually being qualified for one’s intended office.

Eventually, my father began to sour on Donald Trump, not so much because of his intended policies—or lack thereof—but mostly with respect to his denigration of women. As good as any reason not to cast a vote for the man, as far as I was concerned. To wit, I don’t know who Dad voted for this past November. All I know is that since the election and in the months since, every time a discussion of a remotely political nature has threatened to rear its head in our house, he has sought to put the kibosh on it, plaintively asking, “Do we have to talk about politics?” Accordingly, it is pretty rare that my father makes any political commentary unsolicited. (His social commentary is more regular, though no less disturbing, particularly as it concerns anti-feminist attitudes or criticisms of appeals to diversity and political correctness.)

One area where Dad has been notably vocal, though, and a point on which I patently disagree with him, is the subject of unions and other professional organizations. Whether it is because of his experience in the human resources realm or in spite of it, or even related to my mother’s dealings with union representation (Mom is a registered nurse), I can’t say for sure, but suffice it to say, Pops believes unions are “ruining this country.” Harsh words, but Dad is certainly not alone in his antipathy to these organizations. In 2013, Al Lewis, now-business editor of The Houston Chronicle and then-Dow Jones Newswires reporter, Wall Street Journal columnist, and writer for MarketWatch, explored America’s distaste for unions alongside their apparent acceptance or tacit compliance of many with standard operating procedure for corporations and the executives who manage them. Lewis describes the psychology of anti-union sentiment:

Unions…could counter many of the economic injustices that plague America. Unfortunately, unions have lost their power to do so. Union membership in the private sector is down to 6.6 percent of all workers, [a] Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed. In the public sector, 35.9 percent of all employees remain unionized.

This is why, as Americans, we often view unions as a cause of higher taxes. We also are still wondering where the mob buried former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. We sense a more subtle form of institutional corruption in the unions’ alignment with mostly Democratic politicians. We detest the extra layer of bureaucracy unions add to any workplace. And we suspect that it can kill business.

The pension liabilities some companies have amassed in past union negotiations simply blow our minds. And we are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers. So by now, most Americans have decided they don’t want to be in a union, even if the decline of unions correlates to the decline of the middle class.

The perception of union leaders as not merely working with political leaders, but for them or in cahoots with them, certainly would seem to work against acceptance of the abstract concept of unions in the United States, as does the image of the union leader earning a comparatively exorbitant salary next to the members of the organization he or she represents, or unions lobbying for their pensions even with many states and municipalities in a state of financial turmoil. More than mere politics or even morality, however, Al Lewis speaks to implicitly-held theories of leadership and who or what types of individuals are capable of leading groups of workers. “We are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers.”

Right there, we have a sense of the larger and more pervasive attitude toward those at the top of the hierarchy and those forming the base of the pyramid. Those at the top are presumed to have superior management and leadership skills, not to mention acumen in their given field. Those at the bottom are presumed to be deficient in such skills, drones born to follow rather than lead. Especially as it concerns trade professionals, there exists a stereotype of the blue-collar worker as fat, lazy, stupid, or all three. You know the idea—the plumber crouched over his work, his rear-end barely concealed by his briefs and sagging jeans. There is undoubtedly a perception gap when it comes to these two groups, a phenomenon further expounded upon by Lewis to conclude his piece:

Americans hate organized labor, but somehow they do not hate organized management. As the labor unions have declined, professional corporate managers have formed increasingly powerful guilds of their own. They belong to elite groups, such as the Business Roundtable or the Trilateral Commission, to name a couple. Many are even having a little cabal in Davos, Switzerland this week. What? You thought that was about improving the world? This is how they end up on each other’s boards, approving each others’ compensation packages.

In this subtle way, CEOs have built the most successful union in all of history. You ask a company why it pays its CEO so much, and the answer is always because it is what all the other CEOs get paid. All the other CEOs who sit on each others’ boards, that is.

It is the greatest spin job in all of economics and politics. When someone making $943 a week tries to organize, and fend for their own economic interests, Americans have been conditioned to call it socialism. But when someone making several hundred thousand dollars a week does it, they call it free enterprise.

The many, in other words, look up to the few, and as part of this aspirational model, look down upon their present station, or simply down upon those who they believe exist at a lower echelon than them. In the context of unions, when workers organize and try to buck the paradigm of the survival of the fittest paradigm, we have been conditioned to view it as a violation and an aberration rather than the way things should work. As Mr. Lewis intimates, somehow we have been led to associate the activities of professional organizations with greed and excess, or even asking for something undeserved, when executive compensation packages continue to reach obscene levels, even in the face of scandal. Simply put, the American people, by and large, seem to have it backwards when it comes to how they regard the balance of power in our society.


Republican Governors Snyder and Walker attend National Governors Assoc Winter Meetings in Washington
Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, and Chris Christie have all taken hard-line positions against union workers. They also all happen to be shitty governors. Coincidence? (Photo Credits: Reuters/Brian Frank/Mike Theiler/Mike Blake)

So, yes, likewise simply put, public support for unions has been on the decline, as has participation from workers in those professions who might stand to become or remain members. As of the date of publication of Al Lewis’s article, union membership was down to 11.3% of all workers, a level the author notes is the lowest the United States of America has seen since the Great Depression. Rarely are comparisons to the Great Depression ever a good thing for trends involving employment and labor. This historical perspective alongside current negative feelings about organized labor forms the backdrop for the much-politicized battle over the responsibilities and rights of workers in relation to unions, often correlating with party affiliation. Journalist and academic Thomas Edsall, in an op-ed appearing in The New York Times back in 2014, phrased this succinctly with the very title of his essay, “Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions.” Edsall elaborates on the depth of the GOP’s war on unions as fueled by stronger conservatives within its ranks:

Republicans are willing to go to great lengths to weaken the union movement, especially at the state level. Even as the strength of organized labor as a whole declines, conservatives view unions that represent public sector employees, in particular, as anathema. They are desperate to gut the power of the 7.2 million organized government workers — who range from teachers, to clerks in the Department of Motor Vehicles, to social workers, public hospital employees, meat and poultry inspectors, road workers, property tax auditors and civil servants in general. These are the employees who populate the extensive bureaucracies that the right loathes.

Those familiar with the evolution of the Republican Party over the past few decades should not see this reality as much of a surprise. The GOP has become unflinchingly pro-business in its adoption of fiscally and socially conservative positions, to a fault and to the extent that they have sought to undermine regulations on corporations, other businesses, and whole industries (e.g. banking and finance) because they view them as bad for business. Unions, seen as a constraint of a different sort and emblematic of the type of bureaucracy conservatives always claim to want to bypass, are therefore a prime target for Republican lawmakers and state leaders. Three Republican governors in particular are cited for their anti-labor hostility and posturing in Edsall’s op-ed. The first is Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor and early 2016 presidential race dropout. The second is Rick Snyder, Michigan governor, who we now know was a key player in the lead-filled dumpster fire that is Flint’s water crisis. The last is my personal favorite, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, whose administration engineered Bridgegate and who has gone after the teachers’ union with fetishistic fury. Many people, myself included, would characterize actions taken by all three during their tenures, especially those leading to the crisis in Flint, as reprehensible. Does this necessarily mean that their positions on unions are therefore wrong? Well, no. But let me tell you—it doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence either.

Again, the Republican resistance to union participation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Democrats’ failure to meet this war on organized labor in kind, however, is vaguely disappointing, though perhaps not altogether surprising either, if you understand the schism within the Democratic Party between its establishment wing replete with big-money donors, and its progressive wing predicated on grassroots funding and organizing, as well as advocacy for a $15 minimum wage, among other things. Thomas Edsall puts the nature of the Democrats’ weak defense of unions in blunt terms: “If Republicans and conservatives place a top priority on eviscerating labor unions, what is the Democratic Party doing to protect this core constituency? Not much.” In saying as much, Edsall points to the Obama administration’s undermining “of the bargaining power of the most successful unions by imposing a 40% excise tax, which takes effect in 2018, on health insurance premiums in excess of $10,200 annually for individuals, and $27,500 for families, in order to finance Obamacare.” These so-called “Cadillac plans,” Edsall continues, intended as a luxury tax of sorts, are seen by labor leaders as threats to health insurance benefits that various unions have had to fight for with executive management of companies. As one labor leader quoted within the piece opines, non-union and union workers alike will be hurt by these plans, with non-union workers in particular at risk of having their benefits slashed and their deductibles skyrocket. To put this in different terms, and as far as labor groups are concerned, with “friends” like the 40% tax, who needs enemies?

It should be stressed that this Thomas Edsall piece was published in 2014, before the rise of Donald Trump. Even then, the Democratic Party was being lectured by Edsall and others to “neglect the union movement at their own peril.” Accordingly, Edsall’s closing paragraphs seem duly ominous, if not presaging the disaster of a Trump presidency outright:

Even when the party had full control of both houses of Congress and the White House in 2009, Democrats gave a less than halfhearted effort to pass labor’s top priority: legislation that would make elections for union representation easier. Democratic strategists looking toward the future are focused on “the rising American electorate” — single women, minorities and the young, with no reference to labor.

At the same time, many voters in the Republican electorate are themselves middle and low income. In 2014, 67 percent of those who cast Republican ballots earned less than $100,000 in household income; 30.4 percent made less than $50,000. Republicans face their own problems remaining competitive in presidential elections, which will only worsen if they do not strengthen their support among these less affluent voters.

But even with labor unions no longer the force they were — and in fact in part because of their decline — the pressure will fall on both parties to more effectively represent the interests and rights of economically struggling voters, who at some point will refuse to tolerate their eroding income and lack of opportunity.

Translation: people are going to get pissed, and will vote accordingly. In acknowledging this effect, I, in the same breath, acknowledge that there was—as crazy as might seem at first glance—a slice of the American electorate that went from casting their ballots for Barack Obama in 2012 to turning out for Trump in 2016. Their numbers are not insignificant, but as Sean McElwee argues, focusing on this relatively small subset of 2016 election voters obscures the real trend that should be garnering Democrats’ attention, particularly those more entrenched members of the establishment. Where Donald Trump and his campaign succeeded, and where Hillary Clinton, her campaign, and Democrats including Obama have failed to manage, is mobilizing those who should be among their base to the polls. McElwee attributes a large part of this failure of the Dems to their reluctance to make voting rights a priority for various groups, a problem exacerbated by Republicans’ efforts to nullify any inherent advantages with these blocs. He explains:

When Republicans take power, their first priorities are voter suppression and right-to-work, their second is to destroy the capacity of government to aid working families and their third is to turn the government into a patronage machine for wealthy whites. Democrats have failed to understand that in order to win, they must do the opposite. Voting rights must be a priority, and policies should strengthen the ability of working people to organize and mobilize.

“Working people.” Sean McElwee highlights them above any other segment of the Democratic Party’s core supporters, at least traditionally speaking, and references to their “organizing” clearly invokes the importance of unions. From there, or perhaps even concurrently, Democratic leadership must invite workers and sympathetic activist/progressive groups to the table. As McElwee sees the matter, this is the only path forward for a successful Democratic Party, or to quote him directly, “Party elites will have to cede some power to make this happen.” If recent party history is any indication for the Democrats, this is easier said than done.


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If this man is introducing a piece of legislation, let alone supporting it, chances are it’s a terrible idea. (Photo Credit: Steve King)

In terms of the first priorities of the GOP underscored by McElwee in his piece and quoted above, the voter suppression angle probably isn’t that hard to understand. Numerous articles have been written about the “real” voting scandal of 2016: not the closeness of the vote in certain swing states begging a recount, not even the possible hacking of voting machines and other Russian interference in the presidential election, but voter suppression at the hands of Republicans determined to try to widen their advantage over Democrats at the polls, including by limiting opportunities of people of color to vote and creating unnecessary hurdles for them to cast their ballots. (Together with gerrymandering, these are issues of considerable importance that do not get nearly the attention they should.) Right-to-work, meanwhile, is a concept that is likely unfamiliar to the average voter, especially one from a state that does not have such a law on the books. The term “right-to-work” sounds pretty benign in it of itself. Should people have a right to work? Sure, why not? Let’s rubber stamp the bill along and call it a day, shall we?

Not so fast. It would be bad enough if “right-to-work” was a form of euphemistic language—you know, in the way “civil asset forfeiture” is another way of saying “the police gets to take your shit if you’re at all implicated in a crime and without proof of wrongdoing or even being charged.” But it’s more than that—it’s a complete misnomer. Right-to-work has nothing to go with the right to work. The University of Missouri–Kansas City recently featured a profile on right-to-work legislation in the University News, UMKC’s independent student newspaper. First, the editorial defines the term and gives context to the political debate surrounding it:

Right to work legislation prohibits unions from requiring that dues or fees be paid by all employees that it represents. This usually has the effect of weakening labor organization, as unions will have less financial power to fight for higher wages or benefits such as health care. Additionally, so-called “free riders” can take advantage of the workplace protections and benefits without contributing to the unions that acquire them. Conversely, proponents say that job growth increases because businesses prefer to operate in states with right to work laws.

Data can usually be spun by either side to support or reject the claims of the other. There is no firm consensus by economists or statisticians on the effects of right to work, as it cannot be easily isolated from other factors such as variable standards of living or the economic recovery following the recession. In general it increases job growth and in general it decreases wages, all usually in tandem with other pro-business and anti-labor policies. This is a subject where hard, unbiased data is scarce and so the debate devolves into opposing ideological and political arguments. Therefore, right to work legislation probably makes less impact as an economic policy than it does as a political call-to-arms.

This University News profile, whether to be merely diplomatic about the matter, or because it legitimately wants to be cautious because of the purported lack of “hard, unbiased data” on right-to-work legislation, describes its economic impact with an air of neutrality. Still, certain elements of this synopsis scream out to the liberal and progressive reading it and suggest a negative connotation. “Has the effect of weakening labor organization.” “‘Free riders’ can take advantage…without contributing.” “Decreases wages.” “Anti-labor.” Sure, job growth may occur, but seemingly chiefly because companies prefer to operate in climates that are favorable to business and let them take advantage of workers in their own right; job number increases, after all, would mean little when the quality of the positions being added is suspect. However you slice it, that businesses would lobby and Republican politicians would craft policy in favor of right-to-work doesn’t appear to be an accident, especially not in light of the aforementioned war on unions perpetrated by the Republican Party.

This same profile, on the other hand, invokes visions of “danger” as well as cites some guy named Martin Luther King, Jr. in capturing the antipathy held by labor leaders and others toward right-to-work policy. The danger, as the UMKC student staff behind the article have identified, is “in inciting political will to elect those with an interest in supporting big business,” and that it “also attracts those businesses’ donations.” As for MLK, he was downright foreboding about the concept in the abstract. As quoted within the feature:

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as “right to work.” It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.

Leave it to a man assassinated, presumably for his views on matters of not only racial inequality, but income and wealth inequality, to put things in perspective and give the matter its due weight. Even then, King and others saw the importance of protecting labor from the machinations of big business and the politicians who aid and abet corporate attempts to shrink union representation. Sure, they may not have been statisticians with “hard, unbiased data” at their disposal—but perhaps they didn’t need to crunch numbers to see the writing on the wall.

For those who have crunched the numbers, meanwhile, the evidence for why right-to-work legislation is problematic for rank-and-file workers regardless of political or union affiliation is that much more compelling. In 2011, Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz authored a report for the Economic Policy Institute on the “compensation penalty” of right-to-work laws, finding that wages, the rate of employer-sponsored health insurance, and employer-sponsored pensions were all significantly lower in states that had these laws on the books. Sure, this is just one study, and the EPI does lean more to the left, but the comprehensiveness of the report alone suggests Gould and Shierholz might be on to something.

The historical implications of right-to-work legislation only magnify its problematic nature. Michael Pierce, associate professor at the University of Arkansas, directly ties right-to-work to the South’s prejudicial past (and sometimes present) and deliberate attempts to disenfranchise Jews and people of color. From his January 2017 essay:

As Kentucky legislators pass a measure outlawing the union shop and Missouri’s General Assembly contemplates doing the same, it is worth remembering that so-called Right-to-Work laws originated as means to maintain Jim Crow labor relations and to beat back what was seen as a Jewish cabal to foment a revolution. No one was more important in placing Right-to-Work on the conservatives’ political agenda than Vance Muse of the Christian American Association, a larger-than-life Texan whose own grandson described him as “a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and a Communist-baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.”

OK, you’re thinking, Vance Muse was just one man from one Christian organization. That doesn’t necessarily mean much. No, but when it inspires whole states, their governors, and their legislators to pursue right-to-work legislation specifically to marginalize unions and their members, this is more than just the trivial misdeeds of one man. Pierce closes his piece with these thoughts:

The Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation and allied industrialists were so pleased with the Christian American Association’s success in passing the anti-strike measure that they agreed to underwrite a campaign in 1944 to secure a Right-to-Work amendment for the Arkansas constitution. This placed Arkansas alongside Florida and California as the first states where voters could cast ballots for Right-to-Work laws. While Muse and the Christian Americans consulted with the campaigns in California and Florida, they led the one in Arkansas.

During the Arkansas campaign, the Christian Americans insisted that right-to-work was essential for the maintenance of the color line in labor relations. One piece of literature warned that if the amendment failed “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes . . . whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.” Similarly, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation justified its support of Right-to-Work by citing organized labor’s threat to Jim Crow. It accused the CIO of “trying to pit tenant against landlord and black against white.”

In November 1944, Arkansas and Florida became the first states to enact Right-to-Work laws (California voters rejected the measure). In both states, few blacks could cast free ballots, election fraud was rampant, and political power was concentrated in the hands of an elite. Right-to-Work laws sought to make it stay that way, to deprive the least powerful of a voice, and to make sure that workers remained divided along racial lines. The current push for Right-to-Work in Kentucky and Missouri (along with the fueling of nativism) does something similar—it is an attempt to persuade white working people that unions and racialized others are more responsible for their plight than the choices made by capital.

Two things jump out here. The first is that there is a pronounced racist component to right-to-work—even if modern-day conservatives and Republicans downplay that factor. This may be a case of guilty by association, but Rep. Steve King, now-infamous white nationalist, loves right-to-work. Loves it. King loves it so much that he re-introduced legislation in the House to institute a National Right to Work Act. Where there’s smoke, there tends to be fire, and when there’s bad policy with the specter of racism looming, there tends to be Steve King. Just saying. The second is the mentality that connects to the earlier consideration of Americans “hating unions more than CEOs.” Anti-labor, anti-immigrant—it’s all part of the same classist soup that corporations and the wealthy use to depress the working class by turning them on themselves. Divide and conquer—a page straight out of the GOP playbook.


Given the efforts of Republican Party and industry leaders to weaken the rights of labor, in accordance with any number of factors that lend themselves to lower union enrollment numbers and fewer dues being paid, it would seem that the Democratic Party, a party which preaches inclusiveness and fighting for “the little guy,” would exhibit a more robust, if not more cohesive, challenge to the erosion of the bargaining power of the working class amid the erosion of manufacturing jobs. Owing largely to its own moneyed interests, however, the Democrats are currently primarily a fundraising operation, and only secondarily a defender and mobilizer of organized labor, allowing Republicans to undercut them in individual elections such as the 2016 presidential election, as well as threaten their political support from unions by taking labor group endorsements all but for granted. To reiterate the words of Thomas Edsall, however, they do so at their own peril. As Edsall notes, the Democratic percentage among union voters has consistently stayed in the 60% range for the past two decades, Not only is organized labor making up a smaller and smaller part of the general electorate, though, but Republicans continue to win local, state and federal offices despite changing demographics which should favor the Dems. If Democrats can’t even get into office, let alone do something about the strength of unions and their ability to organize, it paints a pretty grim picture for the working class in the United States.

Right-to-work: it has nothing to do with the right to work, nor is it right for workers, union or not. And if nothing is done to form a coalition to resist attempts to disempower unions and those workers who would join their ranks, we could be on our way back to the days and ways of the robber barons sooner than we think—if we aren’t there already.

Note to Media: Stop Enabling Apologists, Liars, and Racists

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What self-respecting New Jerseyan has a New Jersey pillow on his or her couch? I mean, really! (Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Caruso/NorthJersey.com)

By virtue of living in Bergen County, New Jersey, my family and I read The Record, known colloquially as The Bergen Record. I don’t follow the local news as much as I should, instead amusing myself with diversions like the crosswords and negative op-eds about Chris Christie. It was to my mild astonishment when I saw that The Record and columnist Mike Kelly, who has been with the newspaper since 1981 and who has appeared on various radio shows in the area, as well as NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Hardball with Chris Matthews, and CBS Evening News, had recently made national news on the count of their interviewee. That would be an unfortunately public figure and member of the Trump administration in the person of Kellyanne Conway. Kelly’s interview touched on a number of different topics, but on the heels of Donald Trump’s baseless allegations that Barack Obama and his administration had him wiretapped (remember, pieces on Breitbart do not count as actual news), and WikiLeaks’ subsequent revelations through the release of Agency documents that the CIA has outlined the use of instructions and tools to spy on individuals through vulnerabilities in Apple and Android smartphones, various messaging apps, and even Samsung smart TVs, one line of discussion that dominated headlines was the notion other devices could be used in surveillance of everyday Americans. Particularly microwaves. No, really—microwaves. According to Conway, monitoring could be done through “microwaves that turn into cameras,” and that “we know this is a fact of modern life.”

The Twitterverse and blogosphere alike were abuzz following these assertions by the Counselor to the President, heaping ridicule and microwave-oriented Photoshopped pictures upon her comments. To be fair, maybe Kellyanne Conway really does know something about the hidden capacity for state espionage buried deep within our General Electric appliances, and we’ll all have egg on our faces when it turns out she was right all along. Given her past loose association with the truth, however, and President Trump and his administration’s apparent war on facts, it is—how should I put this—not bloody likely. Recall that Conway herself is already synonymous with “alternative facts,” an abstract concept that is as ludicrous as it is dangerous with respect to how readily she and others within the President’s circle of trust are apt to deflect away from serious lines of inquiry by the press. These new claims are all the more troubling given how apparently flippant she is in this instance about matters of verifiability. “We know this is a fact of modern life.” Who is “we”? What evidence do you have that microwaves are being used in this way? As far as Kellyanne Conway seems to be concerned, the truth of what she said seems to be self-evident in the notion that this is the modern age and that it could happen, or that she’s banking on you having insufficient knowledge of the subject to disprove her. Either way, by the time you’re ready to challenge the veracity of what she says, Conway is already prepared to pivot to the next point.

Will Saletan, in a piece for Slate, explains the nature of her elusiveness when being interviewed, and why it’s effectively useless for members of the media to try to engage her on matters of fact or to get her to admit to an outright lie. From his article:

An interview with Conway is like a game of Crazy Eights with one rule change: Every card is crazy. No matter what you say, she’ll pick a word from your question and use it to change suits. Use the word “fact,” and she’ll ask, “Chuck, do you think it’s a fact or not that millions of people have lost their plans or health insurance?”

Ask her about Russian interference in the election and she’ll reply, as in [an] interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC: “A lot of people in the mainstream media interfered with our election by trying to help Hillary Clinton win.” Ask her about the intelligence on the Russian hack—“You don’t believe the intercepts?” asked CNN’s Chris Cuomo—and she’ll say, “Here’s what I don’t believe … that [this issue is] so darn important to you now.”

Tell her there’s “no evidence that there were millions of illegal votes,” (Stephanopoulos again) and she’ll fire back, “There’s also no evidence that a recount is going to change the results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.” You’ll never win this game because you’ll have to use words. She’ll pick the one she likes and throw out the rest.

Saletan’s advice, therefore, for members of the press is not to ask Kellyanne Conway about right and wrong, but to stick to “simple factual queries,” and to move on immediately when she begins to veer away from a yes-or-no answer. As he reasons, “There’s no point in getting apoplectic at Conway. She’s never going to break. If you think the only way to beat these people is to make them admit their lies, you’re the one who will lose.”

Let’s take this a step further, though. Will Saletan’s advice assumes a desire to or even a need to talk Ms. Conway. From The Record‘s perspective, Kellyanne Conway is more relevant than she would otherwise be because she lives in Alpine, NJ, probably the most affluent town in an already-well-to-do county in Bergen County, generally speaking. Here’s the thing, though: what did we learn as a result of this interview? Sure, the bit about microwaves generates clicks, and certainly, as much of a train-wreck in the making Donald Trump as POTUS seems to be, his tenure has been entertaining. All the same, the failure of the media to hold Trump and his lot accountable—because the latter have done their part to avoid the press, restrict its access, and undermine its credibility so as to make the job of the former near impossible—means more extreme measures must be taken so as not to further lose ground in the public eye in terms of respectability, at least not with respect to the viewers who still value the mainstream media as a viable source of information. With Conway in particular, if she is not going to provide useful material to viewers, it begs the follow-up question: why bother talking to her at all?

This isn’t a new line of thinking either, with more qualified people than likely you and definitely I expressing similar viewpoints. As part of a recent CNN panel moderated by Don Lemon discussing these comments made by Kellyanne Conway on wiretapping and other possible methods of domestic surveillance, Carl Bernstein, well-known for his work as an investigative journalist during the Watergate scandal, noticeably grimaced before delivering these remarks:

You know, I suggest that it’s time we all stop taking Kellyanne Conway seriously—she’s not a serious person. It’s time for us to drop her from our news agenda, unless she very specifically has something to say that we know has been put out there by the President of the United States.

Lemon agreed, referring to these continued claims of wiretapping by the White House despite a complete lack of evidence and/or the refusal to definitively refute them as “nonsense” and “silly.” (Side note: if Don Lemon is referring to you as “silly,” you know you’ve got to be doing a pretty bad job.) But Bernstein wasn’t content to write off this matter completely, adopting a more serious tone. His response was as follows:

It’s not silly—it’s dangerous—the extent to which we take it seriously. We need to keep doing our reporting on the real stories, including what’s going on with the Russians, with Trump and the people around him. We continue to be destabilized by the Russians and what is going on. Putin has got our number here, and we need to be looking at all aspects of this including whether or not we have a President of the United States who is capable and responsible enough to deal with what is going on.

As noted, Conway’s comments make for good theatre, but Carl Bernstein is correct: they are a distraction. Russian interference in our affairs, including our elections, has been a hot topic of conversation ever since the DNC leaks, and WikiLeaks has long been suspected of having a benefactor in the Russian government of the kind of information that Julian Assange and Company have been able to disseminate across Internet channels. Even the timing of WikiLeaks’ latest release is fairly suspect, as valid or valuable as the information within may be. Max Boot, in an article appearing in Foreign Policy, speaks in rather damning terms to this effect, indicating from the very title that “WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration.”

Boot notes within the article that WikiLeaks has timed past releases for maximum effect, as with the DNC leaks, when revelations about Debbie Wasserman Schultz and others within the Committee acting to effectively sandbag Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid despite their professed neutrality were intended to cast doubt about Hillary Clinton after having sewn up the Democratic Party nomination—and likely to deter fervent Sanders supporters from switching their support to the first female presidential nominee of a major party in U.S. history. The contents of WikiLeaks’ latest data dump puts the American intelligence community on the defensive, at a time when Donald Trump’s claims of wiretapping and his contentious relationship with the CIA and other federal agencies critical to our nation’s security are worthy of our scrutiny, if only for how unreasonable they are. The shell game that is Trump’s relationship to Russia and that of others around him just grows faster and faster as we go. Where it stops—no one knows.


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Jeffrey Lord has what the kids call a “very punch-able face.” (Image retrieved from rawstory.com).

Kellyanne Conway is a glaring example of someone given a platform when it can be argued that all of her exposure primarily benefits the administration she serves and does little for the populace she is supposed to serve. She is not the only one, however, and not the only glaring example, at that. Much as Conway will lie and obscure her way to defending the man who appointed her, others within the media sphere will continually apologize for President Trump—and it is members of the media who enable such behavior, if only to appear fair and balanced. Let’s go back to CNN for a moment, and discuss why in the hell, if a professed leader in cable news such as they is to deem itself a respectable news network, they would have someone like Jeffrey Lord among their ranks. Jeff Lord got a degree in Government from Franklin & Marshall College in 1973. Where? Exactly—I didn’t know this place exists either, much less know it is based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Also, their mascot is the Diplomat, and Roy Scheider is a notable fellow alumnus. How do you like them apples? He also was apparently in the Ronald Reagan presidential administration from 1987 to 1988 as an associate political director—whatever that means.

Today, however, Jeffrey Lord is chiefly a political commentator and general annoyance on CNN and in various print and online publications. He also, more recently, has become a shameless defender of Donald Trump, and even wrote a book about the man entitled What America Needs: The Case for Trump. If that alone does not cast aspersions as to the soundness of his judgment, other controversial stances over the past few years have helped cement his reputation as being among the Piers Morgan ilk of ill-informed political douchebags (apparently, CNN has a penchant for hiring such wannabe click-bait). Jeff Lord once attacked the credibility of Shirley Sherrod, a former Department of Agriculture official, effectively over an issue of semantics about whether a relative of hers was “lynched” as opposed to beaten to death at the hands of a police officer. Lord also has compared Barack Obama when he was president to Mao Zedong and the Hitler Youth, has called on the Democratic Party and prominent figures within it to apologize for the party’s one-time support for slavery, and has defended his criticism of the Democratic Party on the basis that the KKK once supported them—hence, left-wingers today are apparently a bunch of bigots who “divide citizens by race.” The Democratic Party is not above criticism, and certainly, establishment bigwigs like Hillary Clinton are known for some egregious examples of pandering, but trying to vilify the Democrats of today for ties to the KKK and slavery is disingenuous, to say the least.

Not only is Lord feeding these “absurd” viewpoints, as fellow CNN commentator Van Jones referred to the last one in particular, and thereby giving credence to them due to his position of relative influence among cable news viewers, but other network personalities and guests must waste time pointing out the ridiculousness of his comments — time that could be better spent along the lines of what Carl Bernstein argues we should be discussing instead. This year alone, other political commentators have had to do all they could not to pull out their own hair trying to argue with Jeffrey Lord on points that really should be beyond debate by now. Robert Reich had, as Sarah K. Burris termed it, a “WTF moment” in reaction to Lord’s assertion that the intelligence community, specifically the CIA and NSA, were conspiring to try to bring down Donald Trump. A few weeks back, Bill Maher had Jeff Lord on his show, and had to shout “Don’t bullshit me!” to stop Lord from insisting that the Russians didn’t interfere in our election. Just the other day, meanwhile, Anderson Cooper was forced to “debate” with Lord on the subject of the Congressional Budget Office finding that some 24 million people stand to lose coverage with the passage of the American Health Care Act, the Republicans’ intended replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Jeff Lord pointed out that the CBO was off significantly in its initial estimate back in 2010 of how many people would be enrolled in a health insurance plan through the ACA by 2017, to which Cooper added context by highlighting the idea that the Office didn’t account for states opting out of the Medicare expansion. You know, because it was dumb of them to do so since it deprived their constituents of valuable federal funding, but these are politicians we’re talking about here, especially on the GOP side. To this Lord replied—and I wish I were making this up:

Right, but that’s my point, Anderson. We don’t know what the weather is going to be. It’s going to snow, but how much? I mean, we don’t know. We don’t trust weathermen, so why should we trust the CBO? Not that they’re not good people, but this is the problem perpetually in Washington.

Either Jeffrey Lord thinks weather is supremely easy to predict, forecasts of all makes and models are bullshit, or both, or possibly none of it all, but once again, Lord, like his idol Donald Trump, is seeking to undermine public confidence in government departments that contradict the President’s and the GOP’s regressive agenda, and in doing so, is using the inexact nature of statistical models as a means of diminishing math, science, and other subjects requiring sound professional judgment and a substantial degree of education. In other words, Jeff Lord is chumming the waters for the sharks watching at home and following on social media smelling blood in the water with the perception of Donald Trump’s win as a turning of the tide against the liberal elites who so long have been thumbing their noses at working-class America—or at least as they would have it. Not only is this dangerous for the mainstream media’s long-term survival, but as a subset of the cable news circuit, CNN itself is playing with fire by encouraging the “CNN is fake news” crowd and narrative. Down with the MSM! Down with Washington fat cats! Drain the swamp! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! Doesn’t anyone else here see a problem for CNN with trotting out Jeffrey Lord—at the very least, a credibility problem?


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Steve! I loved you in Westworld! (Photo Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Kellyanne Conway plays a game of Keep-Away that presents a danger in distracting us from what the rest of the Trump administration and the Republican Party are doing to destroy our country, not to mention making the media look very foolish in trying to make sense of her brand of crazy. Jeffrey Lord is an unflinching sycophant whose knee-jerk defenses of Donald Trump undoubtedly bolster the confidence of other Trump fanatics at home. Perhaps the most dangerous of these kinds of people we haven’t even discussed yet, however, and that they are as brazen as they are is likely a sign of the times and the political-social environment Trump has helped create here in the United States and abroad. I’m talking about unabashed white nationalists and racists, a group of which Representative Steve King, a political figure at the freaking federal level, is a part.

King, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the 4th Congressional District in Iowa, recently made headlines when he re-Tweeted Geert Wilders, far-right Dutch politician and founder-leader of the Party for Freedom, which has essentially made exclusionary politics its raison d’être. The Iowa lawmaker added his own commentary—as if Wilders’ original content wasn’t bad enough—declaring that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” The media and Democrats alike were quick to pounce on this apparent flagrant violation of American ideals of fraternity and diversity among people of different creeds, races, and walks of life, and even prominent Republicans such as Paul Ryan and Donald Trump via Sean Spicer made apparent attempts to distance themselves from King’s inflammatory remark.

This is just one of Steve King’s boldly prejudicial claims of the last year or so, if not the last week. According to King’s prediction, as expressed to Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson and responding to Jorge Ramos’s suggestion that by 2044, whites, despite likely still being a majority in terms of political power and influence but, in terms of overall population numbers, would be a minority given current trends, “Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other before that happens.” Let this sink in for a moment—as mind-numbing as that may prove. There is so much wrong with this idea it’s hard to know where to begin. First, Rep. King seems literally unable to comprehend that this might happen—that whites are poised to become a “minority-majority” in the United States in a few decades’ time—and so he dismisses the very notion despite the proverbial writing on the wall. Second, he refers to them as “the blacks.” That’s like an older adult referring to the world’s preeminent search engine as “the Google.” It smacks of Jim Crow-era antiquated language. Lastly, the idea that African-Americans and Hispanics would fight because, you know, they’re predisposed to fighting and inciting violence, is wildly racist, not to mention wholly cynical. It has no basis in fact, and even if it did, you would think a politician would be loath to admit as much. And let’s not forget King’s questioning what other “subgroups” have done for Western civilization next to whites, which caused an immediate uproar from the MSNBC panel convened during the Republican National Convention and made it appear as if April Ryan was ready to slap some sense into him—something of which she would have been consummately justified in doing, by the by.

That these kinds of thoughts are coming from an elected official are somewhat astonishing, though not if we chart King’s past remarks and even relevant votes (King evidently was among those opposed to putting Harriet Tubman on the 20-dollar bill). Given his penchant for white nationalist xenophobia and concern for the preservation of white ethnic and cultural elements at the apparent expense of all others, it also is vaguely surprising Steve King—or, as I like to call him, Evil Ed Harris Look-Alike—manages to keep getting elected. Then again, he is from the state of Iowa, a state that is—shall we say—not as diverse as others. As Corky Siemaszko details for NBC News, Rep. King remains immensely popular among voters in his district, and has consistently fended off challenges to his post since first being elected to it way back in 2002. Much of this appeal is owed to his district being over 90% white, but if we’re going to give him credit for something, it’s that he’s also an effective public speaker and can connect with people on a personal level. Of course, he can also pander to the pro-gun, anti-abortion crowd, and play on the fears of a conservative, Republican-heavy electorate concerned about a shrinking working class, changes in the American landscape, and attacks from abroad, but many Iowans see him as a personable, relatable kind of guy. We see another Donald Trump, but his neighbors see, well, a neighbor.

His popularity at home notwithstanding, why EEHLA is allowed to spew his white supremacist garbage on national television is beyond me, as I fail to understand why The Record would opt to interview Kellyanne Conway and her nonsense, or CNN would dare keep Jeffrey “Andrew Jackson’s Secret Descendant” Lord on their payroll. OK—I get that media outlets feel the need to report on Steve King’s outrageous statements. He can and should be called out for his divisive rhetoric, despite his insistence that he is interested in bringing people together. Beyond that initial reporting, though, the story can end there, or if nothing else, can do without further inquiry of King. And yet, who was interviewing him in the aftermath of his babies comment but—you guessed it—CNN. On-air personality Chris Cuomo asked Rep. King to clarify his remarks, as if to intimate that he might want to apologize for seeming like a racist asshole, but King was unfazed.

“I meant exactly what I said.”

Here’s the thing: I feel as if CNN should’ve known Steve King wasn’t going to walk back his comments, that they couldn’t in this instance try to claim moral superiority and make him squirm. On some level, I feel King believes he’s right, and by now, he’s obviously not worried about alienating his constituents back in Iowa, many of whom likely agree with him. The only way to “win,” so to speak, is not to play. Don’t have him on at all. Bringing this discussion back to its central point, this is a lesson I feel the network should have learned with Kellyanne Conway, and why Jeffrey Lord stands to be such a losing proposition for them. You want to be purveyors of truth and go after obvious bigots and liars like Steve King and Trump’s cronies. For those who see Conway and King and Lord and don’t dismiss what they say, though, you’re merely feeding the narratives these people want to believe.

Throughout the presidential campaign, there was no shortage of critics pointing out Donald Trump’s follies and factual inaccuracies. And look where it got him: the White House. The lack of appeal to reason or even morality, in the minds of many, should be enough to disqualify Trump and the other aforementioned individuals. But it obviously doesn’t for enough Americans, and organizations from CNN to the Democratic Party need to start understanding this evident sea change in American politics and tap into what Trump voters/Republican voters care about. Sure, they may not see eye-to-eye on a whole lot with this new audience, but these bastions of “fake news” and “liberal elitism” can at least facilitate a conversation with everyday people rather than putting a bunch of clowns on camera who play up the crazy just to satisfy vague ideas of “fairness” or to garner a greater share of ratings, or attacking these public figures without clearly communicating an identity for themselves and thereby undermining their own credibility.

For the media in particular, though, and to put it succinctly: stop enabling apologists, liars, and racists. You’re still losing by the mere fact of giving them a platform, and may only succeed in hastening your own demise as a result.

2017 Has to Be Better, Right? Reflections on the Dumpster Fire That Was 2016

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Go f**k yourself, 2016. (Image Credit: HBO)

When someone blows up a physical embodiment of the year “2016” and encourages people to tell that year to go f**k itself, you know it’s been an abnormally bad one. John Oliver took the opportunity to give 2016 this proper send-off (a report on this event was equally properly filed under the category “F**K 2016” by Aimée Lutkin and Jezebel), and that HBO agreed to afford Oliver the chance to explode something of that magnitude likewise speaks to the horror that was this past 366 days. That’s right—in case you had forgotten, 2016 was a leap year, so all-too-appropriately, we were given one extra day to protract the misery. The Julian and Gregorian calendars can eat a collective dick on that front.

I only started this blog in the middle of June of this year, so I missed the chance to comment on some things that happened earlier in 2016. With over 50 posts under my belt on United States of Joe, however, there’s still enough topics to revisit to make reflecting on the year that was worthwhile. Well, at least as far as I’m concerned. And since, despite my overall belief in fair and democratic principles, this blog is not a democracy but a Joe-ocracy, that’s the agenda for this session. You’re welcome. So, kick back. Get plenty of champagne ready—noting how awful the past year has been, it may take quite a bit of alcohol to get into the spirit. And get ready to count down to 2017. It’s time to give our own send-off to 2016, middle fingers in the air and all.

REFLECTIONS ON THE DUMPSTER FIRE THAT WAS 2016

Poké-mania runs wild (as written about in “Stop Harshing My Poké-Mellow”)

Well, before we take the plunge into the abjectly negative, let’s go back to the app-based sensation that was Pokémon Go. Since its initial breakthrough success which had critics saying the smartphone game had ushered in a new era of augmented reality and had fundamentally changed the way we look at mobile gaming, downloads and use of the title have understandably cooled. In light of the downward trend, members of the media are now looking at Pokémon Go altogether as a disappointment, especially in light of some updates which failed to impress. You need to walk 3 KM just for one stinking Charmander candy? I’m never going to get that Charizard! NEVER, I SAY!

Now that I’m done being dramatic, not only do I find these charges against the game and its maker Niantic overblown (although, seriously, those Buddy System ratios are pretty shitty), but expectations, buttressed by the app’s initial success, were probably always too high. Though Niantic did its part to make the game palatable to people of all ages and ability levels by making gameplay largely based around throwing Poké Balls and by simplifying battles, the players who are most likely to find the experience rewarding are fans of the original game, who are used to grinding for experience, completing the game as completely as possible, and overall, staying in it for the long haul. It’s not Angry Birds. It’s not Candy Crush Saga. It’s not Fruit freaking Ninja. You have to walk and work for your rewards. You know, when you can’t pay money for some of them. Either way, you still have to walk!

Bernie, you had a hell of a run (as written about in “If You ‘Felt the Bern,’ Then Hold Hillary’s Feet to the Fire”

When Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign in July and formally endorsed Hillary Clinton, it admittedly felt like a punch to the gut. For all the mental preparation made, when the moment actually arrived, it still hurt. What made Sanders’ decision and the associated feelings yet worse, though, was the reception his standing behind Clinton received and the accusations that got hurled around in the wake of the announcement. Con-man. Sell-out. Traitor. Looking at Bernie’s endorsement in a purely ideological vacuum, it is easy to assess this move as a betrayal of his principles and what he stands for. In this instance, however, context is everything, and with Donald Trump having sewn up the Republican Party nomination, Sanders saw greater merit in trying to unite Democrats and other prospective voters in an effort to defeat Trump. Ultimately, the orange one shocked the world and scored an electoral victory, but Bernie Sanders did his best to avoid this eventuality. That not enough Americans either came out to vote or otherwise didn’t buy what Hillary was selling is largely on her, not Bernie.

Of course, in the immediate aftermath of the suspension of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the remaining candidates looked to capitalize. Even with the bulk of Sanders supporters presumed to be going over to Hillary Clinton’s camp, Donald Trump himself made an instantaneous pitch to those “feeling the Bern,” trying to tap into their fervent and justifiable anger at the political establishment. Third-party candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, too, though, made a play for these suddenly available votes, rationalizing that there was no better time than now than to tell the two major parties to shove it. In endorsing Clinton, Bernie repeatedly tried to communicate the danger and inadequacies of Trump as a presidential candidate first and foremost, even though he may have largely been preaching to the choir, as younger voters by and large detested “the Donald.” He also, meanwhile, cautioned against a “protest vote” for someone like Johnson, Stein, or even Harambe (and yes, he would’ve loved to follow this election), realizing, as did all these newfound suitors for Bernie backers’ affections, that the votes of his faithful could swing the election by helping to decide key swing states. To reiterate, it didn’t work all that well, but the effort on Sanders’ part was there.

Ultimately, as Bernie Sanders himself will insist, his run for President, while important, was always more concerned with starting a revolution and getting more Americans, especially younger voters and working-class individuals, involved with the political process, even at the local level. Whether the energy behind his campaign and the urge for progressive grass-roots activism is sustainable in the United States is yet to be seen, but either way, there is yet room for optimism that people will want to keep active and informed as a means of exerting greater control over their own destiny. Thus, you may call Bernie any name you want, but I choose to label him an inspiration, and I feel history will bear out this sentiment as well.

Shit, it’s either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, isn’t it? (as written about in “Do We Deserve Better Than Clinton and Trump? Maybe, Maybe Not”)

As we Bernie Sanders supporters worked our way through the Five Stages of Grief and Loss, eventually, we had to come to accept that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump was going to be our next President. In fact, even the non-Berners were forced to do the same, in all likelihood ensuring many who were on the fence—that is, on whether or not they would vote at all—would choose the latter option and just stay home. In my piece referenced in the title of this section, I mused about the notion that maybe we, as a collective electorate, did not deserve better than these choices that a significant portion of said electorate neither trusted nor cared for much. Ever since 2000, when Ralph Nader was accused of costing Al Gore the election (even though Gore lost that shit on his own, with an admitted probable helping from electoral shenanigans down in Florida), Americans have been highly critical of parties like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, with the usual refrain being some combination of “they could play spoiler to a legitimate candidate” or “you’re throwing away your vote” if you opt for one of them.

However, to invoke the words of Mr. Nader himself, not only is this attitude politically bigoted, as it negates the will of the individual to make an informed choice in accordance with his or her conscience, but it nullifies our bargaining power with the two major parties. After all, if we blindly vote either Democratic or Republican, beyond losing the election, what motivation does either party have to institute reform that better reflects the needs and wants of the voting public? Especially for members of the working class, both Democrats and Republicans have seemed to take them for granted, which at least partially explains why the Dems lost this election and why Trump and Sanders achieved the levels of popularity they did this election cycle.

In the end, though, despite the increased visibility of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein in the lead-up to the election, most Americans who voted (and there was a good portion of the country who could’ve voted which didn’t) cast their ballots for either Hillary or Donald. As historically unfavorable as these two candidates were, and for all their flaws—Trump as an idiot and professional con-man stoking the flames of fear and hatred, Clinton as an out-of-touch elitist with a penchant for pandering and expensive Giorgio Armani jackets—better than nine-tenths of voters decided they had to pick one of the two, if for no other reason than to block the other candidate they liked even less. Which is pretty shitty, if you ask me. Personally, even with the knowledge that she wouldn’t win, I voted for Jill Stein, as I felt neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton had earned my vote. That relative few other Americans opted out of the two-party paradigm, however, signals to me that we, as a nation, are not ready to demand political change as strongly as we should. It’s either red and blue in these United States, and if you don’t like either color, the present message, unfortunately, is to get the f**k out.

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Oh, Bernie—you may not have been a perfect candidate, but you were damn sure better than who we ended up with. (Photo Credit: Jim Young/Reuters)

Holy f**k, Trump actually won (as written about in “American Horror Story: Presidential Election Edition”)

Holy f**k, indeed. In retrospect, I’m not sure why the pollsters were so surprised that Donald Trump scored the “upset” victory, or why we were so easily convinced that Hillary Clinton was such a strong favorite to win the presidency, when their models were consistently wrong or failed to predict the magnitudes of certain results throughout the primary season. At any rate, as must be reiterated for anyone who sees Trump’s win as a mandate, the man who considers himself a master of “The Art of the Deal” won the presidency on the strength of electoral votes, not because he had a resounding victory in the popular vote (in fact, he lost by more than 2 million votes, and it apparently tears him up inside)—and certainly not because he ran a stellar campaign.

So, how did Trump win? Looking at the exit poll data, certain trends do tend to stick out. Regionally, Donald Trump fared much better in the Midwest and the South, and of course, he carried key swing states, notably those in the Rust Belt (e.g. Ohio, Wisconsin). In terms of demographic data, Trump had an easy advantage among male voters and voters 45 and above, not to mention he held an appeal among less educated individuals and the wealthiest earners (a seeming paradox, though as evidenced by how they spend their money, rich people aren’t necessarily all that smart—look at Trump himself!), as well as evangelicals and married people, but perhaps most notable of all, whites voted at almost a 60% clip for Donald Trump, while close to three of four non-whites went for Hillary Clinton. CNN commentator Van Jones referred to this aspect of the results as a “white-lash”, as in “white backlash” after eight years of a black president the Republicans have characterized as a cause of America’s problems and someone with a secret Muslim agenda, and it’s hard to argue otherwise, really. When the former head of the Ku Klux Klan is cheering you on and citing you as an inspiration, you know white supremacist beliefs, racism and xenophobia helped you to victory.

On a somewhat related note, the thematic reasons why Trump voters chose the way did are also significant. Speaking of racism and xenophobia, supporters of Donald Trump rated immigration trends and terrorism the most important issues facing the United States. Screw the economy and foreign relations—let’s worry some more about brown people. As for the quality that best drew voters to Trump, it wasn’t whether the candidate cares about them, exhibits good judgment, or has the right experience—those voters tended to go for Clinton—but whether he or she could bring about “change.” Whatever the heck that means.

In a nutshell, that’s why Donald Trump is set to be our next President. As for who we can blame for this, besides the obvious in Trump himself and his supporters, there are three core enablers for the man’s political success. Certainly, the Republican Party let him waltz right in and secure the nomination after a barrage of similarly weak candidates failed to stand in his way, and after the GOP at large sowed the seeds of fear and hate he exploited. The media, too, acted irresponsibly and selfishly, chasing ratings while failing to challenge Trump on his lack of defined policy, his factual inaccuracies, his reckless language, or even his refusal to publish his tax returns. In addition, the Democratic Party, in its own right bears some responsibility. Among its most damning sins are its failure to stand up for the working class, its inability to protect jobs and wages, its support for disastrous trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, its complicity with corporations and wealthy donors, and its allowing antitrust laws to lapse or otherwise become weaker, thereby consolidating power into fewer and fewer hands. The failure to stop Donald Trump is a collective one, and though it probably won’t happen, these enablers should do some serious soul-searching for fear of endangering their long-term prospects.

Trump sucks, but his VP ain’t so hot either (as written about in “Mike Pence None the Richer”)

Should anything happen to Donald Trump, whether in terms of his health (not that I’m wishing for the man to pull a William Henry Harrison or anything) or impeachment, the next man in line may not be all that much of an improvement. Mike Pence, who has been governing the proud state of Indiana, has arguably made a number of shitty choices during his tenure. He vetoed a refund of a tax overcharge on the basis it would have cost too much to administer. Before he got too much (warranted) negative feedback, he proposed JustIN, a state-run news service some likened to Pravda in the Soviet era. He rejected Medicaid expansion in his state under the Affordable Care Act on principle, to the detriment of his constituents. He insisted on a ban against a needle exchange program that was effective in limiting the spread of HIV related to a particular drug injection, and later reversed his position, but refused to use state funding to provide for such exchanges. Perhaps most notably, he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, which allowed for discrimination against the LGBT community and cost Indiana some $60 million in revenue before its reversal. An opponent of gay marriage and women controlling their own reproductive rights, Mike Pence is one of a seemingly increasingly long line of conservative Republican leaders who puts evangelical beliefs ahead of his state’s and the nation’s best interests. He’s not Trump, but he’s no rose either.

Alt-right…more like alt-wrong (as written about in “The Alt-Right Isn’t Alright”)

In terms of what damage he may do in terms of signing legislation into law and what damage he likely already is doing in his appointees for key positions (Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy—are you f**king serious?), that Donald Trump has been thrust into a position of immense power is bad enough, but his association with the far-right and his inspiration to the likes of David Duke makes for some shitty ripple effects just the same, let me tell you. I said earlier that Trump’s electoral victory should not be seen as a mandate given how he lost the popular vote and in light of how divided we are as a nation. And yet, the Breitbart crowd and members of the so-called “alt-right” have taken it as such, viewing themselves as fighters in a culture war they are winning, standing against political correctness and other liberal “absurdities.” They also apparently like boycotting companies who don’t stand for their white supremacist agenda. You know, even though they probably don’t use their products anyway. But boycott it is! TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP!

When Hillary Clinton formally acknowledged the alt-right in a speech during the campaign, though I feel it needed to be said, it further legitimized this loosely-constructed movement that coincides with the likes of Gamergate’s sexist perpetuators. That Stephen Bannon has been given a prominent advisory role in Trump’s administration, though, should concern us more conscientious Americans. Donald Trump is not normal, and those who sanction his misdeeds and try to normalize his objectionable behavior are standing in the way of progress. Furthermore, the gang mentality with which many of them operate, encouraging online attacks on and/or death threats against individuals whose values clash with theirs, is troubling, as is the unwillingness of social media services to more aggressively pursue those accounts which violate their terms of service for fear of losing traffic. In short, the alt-right has arrived, as much as many of us might not like to dignify them with a response, and it is incumbent upon those of us who have respect for others—not just respect for white males who refuse to admit to their privilege—to speak out against their behavior and words as dangerous and wrong.

Brexit: the awful Trump presidency appetizer (as written about in “Brexit: Britain’s Wall at the Mexican Border”)

Before Donald Trump swooped in to save the day and stop the threat of taco trucks on every corner in the United States, the United Kingdom gave us a teaser trailer for the U.S. presidential election with a referendum vote on whether or not to remain in the European Union. As with the election in the States, the experts predicted voters would do the sensible thing; if this were an analogy in the vein of the old SATs: UNITED STATES: ELECT HILLARY CLINTON :: UNITED KINGDOM: VOTE REMAIN. And, as with the election in the States, voters did the exact opposite.

The parallels are uncanny. The decision to leave the EU was, as it was in the United States, mediated by a greater incidence of older voters opting to do the wrong thing. Like with Trump’s anti-immigrant appeals and vague notions of “making America great again,” Leave voters were swayed by visions of “securing the nation’s borders” and “taking back control” of the country’s economy, not to mention equally empty promises of the UK Independence Party. Additionally, voters seemed to be making choices that were a direct rejection of existing politics. Barack Obama, David Cameron—either way you slice it, the public clamored for change, no matter who would bring it or what it would entail. The fallout from both votes is still being assessed, but the discontentment of the working-class voter and upward trends in outspokenness among white nationalists worldwide suggest the U.S. and UK votes are not isolated incidents, and in turn, that the risk of other Brexit-like events occurring in the future in other countries is all-too-real. The winds of change are blowing, and one can only hope our houses don’t get knocked over when the gusts have subsided.

“Blue lives matter,” or, “Let’s find a way to blame black people for getting shot by the police and negate their ability to peaceably assemble” (as written about in “How Not to React to Stories about Police Shootings, from One White Person to Another”

Contrary to the apparent beliefs of some, black people don’t enjoy getting mowed down by police at routine traffic stops. While police shootings may not have been any more numerous in 2016 than in years past, through the advent of cellphones and other camera-based technologies, violence involving police certainly has become more visible. Whatever the precise rates of deaths related to encounters between civilians and police, it would seem as though we have a lot of progress to make regarding recognition of the disparity of treatment people of color receive at the hands of police and that which is received by whites, regardless of whether the person accosted by one or more officers has a gun or not.

A perfect illustration of the failure of much of white America to confront its privilege in this regard comes in arguments about the very name and nature of black activism in the United States which exists in large part due to documented police brutality. In response to hearing the moniker Black Lives Matter, or merely even the phrase “black lives matter,” some people are too quick to “correct” the original speaker with the phrase “all lives matter,” or counter with their own version (i.e. “blue lives matter”) that serves to negate the critical recognition of blackness inherent in the initial figure of speech. To me, however, this falls prey to a fairly obvious logical trap: if all lives matter, then black lives, as a subset of all lives, should matter too, and there should be no problem accepting that terminology. “Black lives matter” does not mean black lives should matter more than other lives, but simply that they should matter as much as white lives, blue lives, or any other color lives of which one can think. Clearly, though, they don’t, or else there wouldn’t be a need for organizations such as Black Lives Matter.

The need to scrutinize adherence by individual officers to specified protocol when engaging possible suspects, as well as the systems which serve to shield “rogue” cops from criticism and/or prosecution, is undermined by two key strategies of those who react to protests with knee-jerk defenses of our uniformed police. The first is to question the integrity of the victim—yes, victim—who, because he or she is labeled a “thug” or has a history with the law, evidently deserves to be effectively lynched by the police who intercede him or her. The second is to de-legitimize efforts of black activists wholesale, conflating them unfairly with those who loot and otherwise take advantage of violence and associated protests for their own gain, likening them to terrorists, or wrongly insisting they are advocating for the slaughter of police. In both cases, this is counterproductive, regressive thinking.

As some have argued, those cops who are too nervous not to shoot someone at a routine encounter shouldn’t be placed in such a highly leveraged situation, and either way, good police—which comprise the majority of forces around the nation, let’s be clear—should be appreciative of efforts to root out bad actors from their ranks. As for the protests against police brutality, this doesn’t equate to disrespect for the police, nor does kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem constitute an affront to our military, as Colin Kaepernick’s example reminds us. Black Lives Matter et al. don’t want to see law and order dissolved. They just want to see police officers and officials who wear the badge held accountable when they do wrong, and at a very basic level, not to be utterly afraid they might die when getting pulled over by a squad car. It’s 2016. We need to do better as a country in addressing racial inequality, especially within the purview of criminal justice.

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Oh, no! Black people are expressing themselves! Let’s get angry about it and throw a temper tantrum! (Photo Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)

ISIS, America, and how hate begets hate (as written about in “ISIS, America, and Hate: Two Sides of the Same Coin”)

There have been too many mass shootings in the United States of late, but the Orlando nightclub shooting, in particular, was particularly devastating for many of us. Not only was it a tremendous loss of life, but that the LGBT community was apparently the specific target of the violence made this brutality that much worse for a population that regularly faces hatred and persecution. Speaking for myself, it is difficult to comprehend how someone could harbor such hate for themselves and others that they would wish to walk into a building and start firing indiscriminately. Perhaps this idea gets the tiniest bit easier to understand when we understand this hate works both ways. As jihadists would seek to inspire terror in the West through bombings and mass shootings, white nationalism encountered in Austria, France, Holland, the United Kingdom and the United States, among other nations, has created an environment that has often proved hostile to Muslims, and has made the prospect of accepting more refugees from war-torn countries like Syria decidedly poor. I mean, Donald Trump ran on a platform of which one of the key tenets was a temporary ban on travel to the U.S. for all Muslims. It’s incredible, and incredibly shameful, at that.

Never mind the idea that all this bluster about “bombing the shit out of ISIS” may actually be good for the Islamic State’s ability to recruit and strengthening its resolve. The jingoists among us would have everyone believe that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with the laws of the United States, that it is a “cancer” to be snuffed out, and that American Muslims who don’t do enough to help discover would-be terrorists in their midst (which, evidently, is quite easy) are guilty in their own right, and regardless, likely merit surveillance of their homes/places of worship and tests administered to gauge their love for and commitment to the U-S-of-A. This conflation of Islam, a religion which preaches peace at its core, and the bastardized religion ISIS and other jihadists/”radical Islamists” practice, is a patently false equivalency.

For the sake of an analogy—one for which I can’t take credit, let me stress—ISIS is to everyday Muslims what the Ku Klux Klan is to white people who aren’t unabashed racists. In both cases, the majority disavows the hate and violence these groups perpetuate. This is by no means saying we shouldn’t be vigilant against individuals who would wish to do us harm. As bad as the Orlando massacre was, though, and as unforgivable as the actions of an organization like ISIS/ISIL have proven, our responses and the negative feelings that accompany some of these reactions reveal an ugly side to our patriotism as well. In the demonization and the pursuit of “the other,” we run the clear risk of losing ourselves.

Miscellaneous events

  • I didn’t originally write about it, but the Chicago Cubs actually won the World Series. To wit, I have neither observed nor heard any stories about swarms of locusts descending on fields or rivers of blood forming, but I’m not ruling them out just yet. The apocalypse takes time to develop, you know?
  • Wells Fargo was forced to fire thousands of mid-level managers for directing employees to create fake accounts and sign up customers for services without their knowledge, essentially making them scapegoats for the company’s aggressive sales model. The company eventually apologized—sort of—and John Stumpf was eventually removed from the role of CEO, but the big bank largely closed the book on this sordid chapter of its history without really admitting wrongdoing, and Stumpf had a nice golden parachute on which to drift to security. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo has apparently learned absolutely nothing from this fiasco, as new CEO Tim Sloan has expressed the belief that the company and the banking industry as a whole could actually do with less regulation. Evidently, it’s all fun and games when you get to play with other people’s money.
  • FBI director James Comey, despite finding that Hillary Clinton and her aides were extremely careless in their handling of E-mail while Clinton was Secretary of State, that Clinton should’ve known certain E-mails were classified and didn’t belong on an unsecured server in the first place, that the State Department was generally lacking in security protocol for classified E-mails, and that Hillary used multiple unsecured devices in locations where American adversaries could have exploited this vulnerability, held a press conference to announce he was not recommending charges be filed against the Democratic Party nominee. Then, a week before the general election, he announced that the Bureau was looking anew into Clinton’s E-mails, which she and her campaign cite as a factor in why she lost. So, nice going, Director Comey! You’ve undermined confidence in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and perhaps swayed the election! Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard!
  • Chris Christie not only failed to capture the Republican Party nomination, but he was overlooked by Donald Trump for vice president despite being, more or less, his manservant. Oh, and Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority, and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, two key figures in “Bridge-gate,” were found guilty on all counts in a trial related to the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, and a separate criminal trial is set to take place for Christie himself. Congratulations, Chris. You played yourself.
  • Puerto Rico defaulted on its debt, a result fueled by a combination of fiscal and economic factors, including the repeal of tax breaks for businesses, the creation and sale of triple tax-exempt municipal bonds, the inability of the commonwealth to declare for bankruptcy, exempting wealthy investors and businesses from paying capital gains taxes, “vulture” hedge funds buying up bonds and demanding a full payday, and institutions like UBS selling risky bonds they themselves underwrote to unsuspecting customers. Today, Puerto Rico’s financial future is yet in peril with individuals who are alleged to have helped the island along the path to crisis serving on its appointed oversight board, and with Donald Trump being a crazy mofo. Also, the U.S. Virgin Islands may be on the way to its own debt crisis. Um, huzzah?
  • In some good news, the Trans-Pacific Partnership seems to be all but dead, being disliked on both sides of the political aisle. Also, the Dakota Access Pipeline is on indefinite hold, as the Army Corps of Engineers found more research needed to be done regarding the environmental effects of its intended route through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Of course, supporters of these canceled or postponed initiatives may yet redouble their efforts, so we concerned progressives can’t really relax. At least we can enjoy a short breather before the ball drops, eh?

In the title of this piece (remember back that far?), I reference the notion that 2017 has to be better than 2016. I’m not sure it amounts to much, though, beyond wishful thinking. If the best qualification for improvement which comes to mind is that we won’t be electing Donald Trump, it’s cold comfort in light of the fact he’ll already be President. Going back to his appointees, if they are any evidence, the country is set upon a bumpy path for the next four years, or until the man gets impeached—whichever comes first. His Defense and National Security Cabinet leaders view Islam as a threat to America. His Education Secretary is an opponent of public schools, despite never having attended one. His Energy Secretary infamously once forgot the name of the department he has been tapped to helm. His Health and Human Services director wants to privatize everything and largely gut social programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. His HUD Secretary knows nothing about housing administration.

Wait, I’m not done yet! His head of the Justice Department failed to be confirmed as a federal judge once upon a time because he was an out-and-out racist. His Labor Secretary opposes raising the minimum wage. His Secretary of State has likely financial ties to Vladimir Putin. His Transportation Secretary is married to Mitch McConnell—and that’s evidence enough of poor judgment. His Treasury Secretary oversaw 50,000 or so foreclosures from his position within OneWest Bank, an entity which was accused of unethical practices and discrimination against minorities. His EPA head is a climate change denier. His Small Business Administration director is former CEO of a fake wrestling empire. And his United Nations representative has no foreign policy experience. Irresponsible does not begin to describe these selections, and fingers are crossed that one or more of them fail to get confirmed by the Senate.

So, yeah, I’m not incredibly optimistic about the United States’ prospects right now. The silver lining, as I see it, is that more and more Americans are waking up to the realization that our system is broken and that it doesn’t work for everyone, and with luck, that number will grow as the sheen wears off the shiny promises Trump has made and can’t hope to keep. I wouldn’t have wished for a Donald Trump presidency in a thousand years, but if this hastens the movement of the nation in a more progressive direction, so be it. For those of us who refuse to accept Trump and the America he has envisioned as normal, and who insist that we’ve come too far as a country to simply put the train in reverse, the resistance starts now. 2017, we look to you in strengthening our resolve. And 2016, once more, you can go f**k yourself.

The Democrats Need to Grow and Wake the F**k Up

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Rep. Keith Ellison has a vision forward for the Democratic Party and the backing of popular figures within it, not to mention the support of someone like Bernie Sanders. Apparently, though, that’s not good enough for members of the Democratic National Committee. (Photo Credit: Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

The Democratic National Committee is not scheduled to elect a new chairperson to replace interim chair Donna Brazile until the end of February 2017—from the 23rd to the 26th, to be precise. If DNC voting members are smart, they’ll choose Rep. Keith Ellison, who hails from Minnesota’s 5th District. Seeing as the Democratic Party has done some pretty dumb things as of late, however, and has not managed to overcome the yet-more exceedingly dumb things done and said by Donald Trump and the Republican Party, at least not with respect to what has transpired in voting booths across America, there’s every chance they won’t. Apparently, Democrats are trying to keep the trend of being disappointed in our elected officials alive and well straight through until next year. Um, hooray?

I say, er, write these things in reference to a recent article by Gabriel Debenedetti and Daniel Strauss on Politico, which cites an E-mail survey conducted of 447 voting Democratic National Committee members and suggests Ellison’s early lead in these polls is anything but secure. According to those either surveyed or interviewed for the piece, a majority have yet to make up their minds, and a significant portion of them seem to be waiting for one or more potential candidates to officially declare to run for the position at the head of the DNC. To a certain extent, this makes sense. As part of the decision-making process, you would like to have as full a complement of choices as possible—although too many choices can really cause anxiety and gum up the proverbial works when it comes to reaching a final conclusion with any due sense of alacrity. But whatever, let the voters be fussy.

Refusing to endorse or officially declare for a particular candidate at this stage in the game is one thing. What, or should I say who concerns me, though, is those individuals quoted for the Debenedetti and Strauss article who seem to already have their minds made up against certain candidates, and based on prejudices held over from the election, no less. One Committee member cited in the piece in particular, a William Owen from the state of Tennessee, both aggravates and unnerves me for what he stands for and what he may represent regarding the 447-person DNC electorate as a whole. An excerpt to illustrate:

Ellison may be the choice of many Democratic leaders and a hefty portion of the grass roots — he cleared a major obstacle last week by pledging to resign his seat in Congress if he becomes chairman, and he has scored backing from a wide range of party influencers including Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer — but there’s no easy glide path ahead.

Ellison has worked hard to appeal to both sides of the party, but he nonetheless engenders by far the most impassioned responses from DNC members, both positive and negative.

One reason is that the shadow of the contentious presidential primary continues to hang over the party, and some DNC members view the Minnesota congressman as part of the faction that delivered a mortal wound to Clinton, despite his best efforts to convince them otherwise.

“Ellison is not the front-runner, Ellison has no chance at all,” said Tennessee committeeman William Owen, giving voice to that view. “I’m a Hillary person. Bill Clinton said, ‘I’ll be with you till the last dog dies,’ and I’m the last dog. I will not vote for Keith Ellison, I will not vote for a Bernie person. I think they cost Hillary the election, and now they’re going to live with Donald Trump. Donald Trump asks, ‘What do you have to lose?’ Nothing, except life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Please excuse me while I place my face against my palm. Thank you. Here we go again with the “Bernie cost Hillary the election” bit. Like the “Nader cost Gore the election” narrative from the 2000 election, I find this charge to be overblown, and here’s why:

1. Bernie Sanders gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money when it came to the Democratic Party nomination. Perhaps she was always going to win, but that the race went on as long as it did speaks to both the strength of Sanders’ message and Clinton’s weakness as a candidate. If you believe Bernie is to blame because he exposed Hillary’s flaws during the primaries, that’s your prerogative, but chances are Donald Trump and his Republican supporters were going to point out her shortcomings anyway. Regardless, in case anyone forgot, Bernie Sanders swallowed his pride and rallied behind Hillary Clinton in an effort to gather support for the Democratic Party nominee. It didn’t work, but that’s not Bernie’s fault.

2. Speaking of getting behind Hillary, Bernie on numerous occasions cautioned his followers and other voters not to cast their ballot for the sake of a “protest vote.” That is, he felt it was the wrong time to consider voting for Gary “What Is An Aleppo?” Johnson or Jill “Hey, I’m a Medical Doctor” Stein. Assuming those who voted for either third-party candidate were primarily younger voters, Bernie Sanders is not their father. He couldn’t force his supporters to pick a candidate they don’t like any more than my adult father can try to get me to eat spinach. I KNOW IT’S GOOD FOR ME, BUT I DON’T LIKE THE CONSISTENCY, OK?

3. When push comes to shove, you know who ultimately lost the election for Hillary Clinton? Hillary Clinton. Continuing the discussion from Point #2, Aaron Blake of The Washington Post notes how Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, pointed to a smaller advantage among millennials than Barack Obama enjoyed in 2012, and worse than was predicted for Clinton even noting Obama’s singular appeal. In other words, as Blake put it, “Yes, you can blame millennials for Hillary Clinton’s loss.”

OK, this is all well and good, but now that we’re done with scapegoating an entire generation, let’s consider that she couldn’t beat a candidate who was as disliked as she was, something Aaron Blake notes toward the end of the article. Millennials disliked Hillary Clinton more than liked her by a narrow margin, but they hated (Blake himself adds this emphasis) Donald Trump, to the tune of a 22% approval rating among likely voters. That Hillary still couldn’t make up the difference speaks volumes, as far as I’m concerned. Besides, if we’re blaming voters, why point fingers at those who didn’t vote for Clinton and not at those who went all aboard the Trump Train? Or is that just what we’d expect from a bunch of “deplorables”?

See, this is the kind of mentality that has me convinced the Democrats don’t really “get it” when it comes to why they are generally losing more than they are winning, especially when their name is not Barack Obama. Case in point: Hillary Clinton herself. We haven’t really heard from the only female presidential nominee of a major party in American history since her defeat in the general election, but recently she broke her silence on why she believes she lost. And much as she has deflected blame when it has come to her use of one or more private E-mail servers to view classified messages as Secretary of State, Clinton is all-too-quick to point to external factors as reasons why she was unsuccessful in her bid to win the presidency. As Amy Chozick of The New York Times writes, Hillary spoke to a group of donors to her presidential campaign in Manhattan, and talked about how Vladimir Putin has a “personal beef” against her and this is why he ordered Russian’s hacking attacks, and furthermore, that FBI director James Comey’s letter raising new questions about her use of E-mail released a week before Election Day led to her loss in key swing states. Even if these things are true, though, to take such a defiant tone and to look past her own failings arguably takes the wrong tack.

When Bernie Sanders eventually conceded the Democratic Party nomination, there was no talk on his part of being cheated by the Democratic National Committee—even though we eventually learned there was collusion on the part of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other key figures in the DNC to subvert his campaign—but rather an emphasis on what the Sanders campaign meant in terms of setting off a political revolution. The focus was on the inclusion and involvement of new entrants into the political sphere, and not on his own personal achievement. To Hillary Clinton and her campaign, it was Director Comey. It was the Electoral College. It was the media. It was millennials. It was Putin. It was Russia. It was third-party candidates. It was Trump’s rabid supporters. Again, these may all have been contributing factors, but for Clinton to negate her own failings would seem to betray her arrogance. After all, if Vladimir Putin and the Russians tried to hack the election, it couldn’t have been about Donald Trump—it had to be about her, right? Only all these elements conspiring against her could bring down the most qualified presidential candidate in modern history, no?


It would be one thing if Democrats were in a strong position to be so principled about their choices of leadership alongside their professed loyalty for certain members of the party. In this case, it would make more sense that Democratic National Committee voting members such as William Owen are willing to continue holding a grudge over a contentious primary season at the possible expense of the party. But the Democratic Party isn’t playing with house money these days. At a recent rally for Keith Ellison in Washington, D.C. at the headquarters of the American Federation of Teachers, Bernie Sanders, in introducing Ellison, made certain to illuminate how Democrats have lost significant ground to Republicans over the past few years, culminating in a devastating series of losses at the state and national level right up to the White House.

In Sanders’ view and in an opinion shared by others, this signifies the Democratic Party isn’t doing something right strategically. As has been his rallying cry and as Keith Ellison has echoed in his own plan for a new path forward for the Dems, the growth of the party and positive change must come from the bottom up, not from the top down. Ellison framed this when he took the microphone in terms of a “3007-county strategy.” As he put it, “We need a town strategy. We need a precinct strategy. The resources need to be moved down closer to the voter.” This is important language regarding organizational structure for a political party that saw voters reject the kind of rich patronage someone like Hillary Clinton so clearly embraced. Of course, these are only words of Keith Ellison’s, and are primarily designed to garner political support for himself. But that doesn’t make what he’s talking about less worthy of aspiration. Because Barack Obama wasn’t able to achieve everything he talked about on the campaign trail, does that mean hope and change are mere illusions? Have we suddenly soured on the whole political process because tens of millions of people were stupid enough to elect Donald Trump?

Even those DNC members who are not as vehemently anti-Sanders as William Owen, I fear, don’t truly have their finger on the pulse of the wants and needs of a growing segment of support within the party. Going back to the Politico piece, here’s a quote from Daniel Hynes, another Democratic National Committee voting member, I found vaguely troubling:

“I’m hoping that there’s another candidate that’s going to emerge. I’m not really happy with the candidates that are out there,” said Illinois committeeman Daniel Hynes, echoing sentiments relayed over and over in interviews over the past week. “I don’t know who that person is, I just think it’s someone who’s detached from Washington, somebody who’s full-time, somebody who’s from the moderate side of the party, and somebody who’s going to steer the party back towards our ability to appeal to middle-class working Americans.”

Hmm, so you want someone who is not a member of the Democratic establishment, but someone who should have a clue about the inner workings of D.C. politics. Oh, and they shouldn’t be too liberal and should have blue-collar appeal. Um, you realize you’ve either described Bernie Sanders minus the moderate part, or—gulp!—Donald Trump minus the clue part. And Trump was only moderate as a by-product of more recently embracing conservative ideals and not having much to say in the way of concrete policy goals. Waiting on a candidate who ticks off all those boxes and is as dynamic as someone like a Sanders or even an Elizabeth Warren is, frankly speaking, asking a bit much.

More importantly, though, this dogged insistence on having a representative of the Democratic Party who hews too close to center arguably is a self-defeating proposition. Outside of her hawkish predisposition with respect to foreign policy, Hillary Clinton was too moderate for her own good, and Tim Kaine, whom John Oliver referred to as the human equivalent of a sweater vest, didn’t help matters. Despite the Democrats’ win in the popular vote for the presidency, they still lost the election, and have gotten shellacked otherwise outside of Barack Obama’s victories the past several years. Insisting on someone more moderate, therefore—in effect, playing not to lose—makes little sense when you’re already losing.

The most energized we have seen liberals and Democratic voters of late, meanwhile, has been behind the vision of people like Bernie Sanders for a more progressive direction for the Democratic Party and the nation, one that has captivated younger voters and thus is key to the source of growth the party will need going forward. With this in mind, the path forward existing Democratic Party leadership needs to embrace is one of bold leadership and an insistence on grass-roots organization that engages both new entrants into the voting process and working-class voters who the Dems seemingly have all but abandoned. And right now, Keith Ellison is the candidate for DNC chair who is best iterating these values and who has the backing of key figures within the party. If the voting members are smart, they’ll choose him to help the Democratic Party regain ground lost to a Republican Party that has made fear of change its raison d’être. If the present insights from members of the Democratic National Committee are any indication, though, the Democrats are not even close to being ready to go bold and far enough to make that a reality.

Don’t Look Now, but the GOP Is Coming for Social Security and Medicare

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Amen, sister. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Djembayz)

There are any number of highly-publicized programs at the federal or national level which, owing to the magnitude of the government’s struggle in these areas and the perceived battle involved of good vs. evil, they are framed in terms of a “war.” The war on drugs and the war on terror are two salient examples. These “wars,” because they involve so many complex factors—not the least of which is the human factor—tend to be quite nebulous in the way they are fought, especially in terms of cost overruns and pushing the envelope on abrogation of civil liberties and international law, if not blowing up a whole stack of envelopes on the latter count. As with any conflict, too, there tends to be a lot of collateral damage incurred in the fighting. Less publicized, but potentially tragically very real and injurious, is another war facing the nation: that of the war the Republican Party is waging against entitlement programs. In this case, the collateral damage is the welfare of the American people, and its imperilment should have us all paying attention.

Donald Trump, as part of his maneuvering to get into the White House, vowed not to make cuts in programs like Medicare and Social Security. Apparently, though, the Republicans in the House of Representatives didn’t get the message, though to be fair, they and Trump have been far from the unified front. Recently, Republican Rep. Sam Johnson out of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security unveiled a plan that would drastically reduce benefits for the majority of earners, including significantly raising the retirement age and reducing cost-of-living adjustments. While the poorest earners would stand to see gains in their benefit rates as long as they show a history of covered employment (i.e. can’t be one of those lousy freeloaders bringing down the country), provisions like the elimination of income taxes on Social Security would end up costing the program, not working to its benefit.

The obvious caveat in the railing against the GOP’s cost-saving methods is the notion that due to shortfalls in the Social Security trust fund, benefits are not guaranteed indefinitely. In fact, should spending not be significantly reduced or revenues prove insufficient to meet the fund’s needs by 2034, significant spending cuts are scheduled to automatically take place. So, Johnson’s “common-sense” plan is a good thing, right? Not so fast. Not only is slashing benefits as the main solution to the Social Security problem not the only alternative, but critics of the Republicans’ plan suggest it will only exacerbate the situation. According to Linda Benesch, spokeswoman for the progressive-minded organization Social Security Works, under Sam Johnson’s plan, cuts would be more severe than those which would go into effect automatically less than 20 years down the line. Moreover, despite the seeming merit of Johnson’s approach, according to Benesch, the uptick in benefits for the lowest wage earners would pale in comparison to the tax benefits to be realized by the wealthiest Americans. Once more, the Republican Party wants to make things even easier for the rich—when they arguably should be paying more, and even though it may negatively affect millions of Americans and for generations to come.

Social Security benefits are not the only benefits about which Republicans and Democrats are likely to rumble in the near future. As John Wildermuth of the San Francisco Chronicle reports, prominent Democrats and the likes of Bernie Sanders are gearing up with relish to go to battle with the GOP on the subject of Medicare, a program with a decades-long legacy of helping seniors meet healthcare costs in the United States. Speaking of Social Security Works, the organization sponsored a press conference some days ago, with figures like Nancy Pelosi, the aforementioned Mr. Sanders, and Chuck Schumer on hand to assert the position of the Democratic Party and liberal-minded people across America that Medicare benefits are off-limits, and to once more remind President-Elect Trump he pledged he would not slash benefits—if only to troll him by doing so.

For the non-Trumpian politicians representing the Republican Party, namely House Speaker Paul Ryan and recent Department of Health and Human Services appointee Tom Price, they have indicated Medicare is a priority, though they have apparently tabled that discussion for the new year. If past conversations on the matter are any indication, though, the GOP agenda on Medicare seems to be a shift toward private plans as opposed to government-paid insurance plans. Though somewhat dated, a 2011 Kaiser Family Foundation study cited by the Wildermuth article which looked at a previous plan proposed by Speaker Ryan found that his approach would force someone retiring at the age of 65 in 2022 to meet twice the out-of-pocket medical expenses as the one enacted under the traditional Medicare program. Noting this history of Republican efforts to make seniors’ benefits disappear, Democrats and millions of concerned Americans are right to be afraid. Very, very afraid.

The attempts by Republicans to gut entitlement programs broadly speaks to two pages out of the GOP playbook when it comes to federal funding and addressing the United States’ bad deficit spending habit. The first, as exemplified by Sam Johnson’s awful Social Security plan, is the refusal to raise taxes on the wealthiest earners, under the premise those companies and individuals at the top will be so overjoyed by their tax-based savings they will in some meaningful way re-invest in the American economy. Maybe they’ll, you know, buy a yacht, or rent a second apartment for their cat to live in exclusively. (If these ideas sound stupid, it’s because they are. Rich people seem to stumble for exotic and pointless ways to throw money at things.)

For all intents and purposes, this is indicative of trickle-down economics, a theory with which most of us should be familiar, even if nominally. The fat cats at the top spend money, thereby creating jobs and magically increasing the wealth of lower-level earners, and in turn, these lower-level earners, because they apparently now have money to blow, contribute to the economy by spending as well. It’s a nice idea—everyone gets richer—even if it blatantly justifies the belief that people at the top of the food chain are there because they are inherently smarter, or harder-working, or what-have-you, and not that they have had any number of advantages including being born into wealth. The only problem is that trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Instead of the benefits of the rich extending to the poor, the wealth amassed by the wealthy tends to stagnate in their hands, especially when stashed in any number of tax shelters and havens domestically or in places like the Cayman Islands that have gained notoriety for their complicity with this financial strategy. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. Those within the middle class get pushed to either extreme. Trickle-down economics, eh? More like the rich pissing on the poor.

The other page of the proverbial GOP playbook embodied by the partisan fight over Medicare and other healthcare programs is the knee-jerk push to privatize everything. Private healthcare plans. Private schools. Private prisons. Private eyes. Private parts. Everything private! The presumption is that the private sector, unfettered by the ravages of excessive, suffocating government regulation, and in line with the individual’s desire for choice as opposed to a public sector mandate or hand-me-down, is inherently a superior option. The reality, however, is that this may not necessarily be the case. Even in the days of the Reagan administration and into the tenure of George Bush the Elder, criticism of a burgeoning trend toward privatization of government assets and services was present. In 1991, John B. Goodman, assistant professor at the Harvard Business School, and Gary W. Loveman, CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment, Las Vegas, co-authored an article for the Harvard Business Review exploring whether or not privatization really serves the public interest. Though there’s a lot to consider within the piece, Goodman and Loveman—or as I would have it, Team GoodLove—aim to shift focus of the debate away from a simple black-and-white discussion of private vs. public, and to consider the role good management should play regardless of ownership. From the article:

Refocusing the discussion to analyze the impact of privatization on managerial control moves the debate away from the ideological ground of private versus public to the more pragmatic ground of managerial behavior and accountability. Viewed in that context, the pros and cons of privatization can be measured against the standards of good management—regardless of ownership. What emerges are three conclusions:

1. Neither public nor private managers will always act in the best interests of their shareholders. Privatization will be effective only if private managers have incentives to act in the public interest, which includes, but is not limited to, efficiency.

2. Profits and the public interest overlap best when the privatized service or asset is in a competitive market. It takes competition from other companies to discipline managerial behavior.

3. When these conditions are not met, continued governmental involvement will likely be necessary. The simple transfer of ownership from public to private hands will not necessarily reduce the cost or enhance the quality of services.

The implications herein, I feel, are important ones. For one, there is no given better alternative between the public or private domain. The more important dimension, it would seem, is whether the goals and incentives of managers and their agents are aligned with the wants and needs of the general public/shareholders. Furthermore, when competition within the marketplace is discouraged or company incentives encourage reckless or otherwise counterproductive/inefficient use of resources, governmental involvement in the form of regulation is warranted. Of course, this regulatory interceding must be kept in check and in balance. Too much heavy-handed, burdensome regulation can stifle productivity and growth, as has been the refrain from conservative Republicans and even small businesses. However, too little intervention on the government’s part has its own perils. Just look at the conditions which led to the Great Recession, or even more recently with giants like Wells Fargo abusing the public trust by creating a high-pressure sales model that encouraged mid-level managers to defraud customers. And to think Wells Fargo’s new CEO, Tim Sloan, wants the U.S. government to roll back regulations! Talk about a disconnect from the public interest!

So, what will Donald Trump’s likely role be in the Medicare and Social Security debate as President of these United States? As is the usual with Trump, no one knows for sure—even with the aforementioned campaign pledges of his to keep his small, child-like hands off these entitlement programs. The concern with President-Elect Trump is that, in light of the notion he lacks substantive policy positions, he will defer to Paul Ryan and his ilk, thereby allowing Republicans to slash and dash their way to a reduced budget. As much of a blockhead as Trump is, though, one would think even he would see that a strategy which puts his adopted party at odds with older Americans—a group that helped him get elected, mind you—seems almost suicidal. You want to keep out foreigners? Nice! We didn’t want to have to learn Spanish anyway! You’re tired of political correctness holding us back? Shit yeah! You’re coming for our hard-earned benefits and money that helps us pay for drugs and other expenses? Uh, wait, back the trolley up there, mister!

See, it’s all fun and games until you go after people’s benefits, especially those which are designed to get them through retirement. And it’s not just current baby boomers and older who have a stake in this. For millennials like myself and younger, the viability of programs like Social Security and Medicare seems like even less of a sure thing, and while some of you may be thinking we’re too busy taking selfies to contemplate such matters, it’s not necessarily true. Though I can’t claim to speak on behalf of the average member of my generation, I personally, by mere virtue of watching sports and absorbing the myriad commercials that air during stoppages of play, see constant reminders about the need to plan for retirement, and need look no further than my favorite team, the New Jersey Devils. They play in Prudential Center in Newark, and viewing their games on TV, I have seen so many commercials with Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor and social psychologist, that I feel like I know him personally. We young folk, you know, want a future, too, and with Republicans threatening entitlement programs and, among other things, denying that climate change is real, we’re understandably not thrilled that we may have to take a ferry to get to work as a Wal-Mart greeter when the seas rise significantly above present levels. I’ve heard more than one of my cohorts lament that our generation is royally screwed, and admittedly, it’s hard not to feel like that sometimes.

As noted earlier, and as alluded to in John Wildermuth’s article, Democrats are apparently preparing “with relish” to entrench themselves in an arduous long-term battle with GOP lawmakers about protecting programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. The implicit notion herein is that there is substantial political capital to be gained by standing with average Americans who don’t wish to see their benefits torn asunder by the Republican Party. However, the Democratic Party, as recent electoral events have shown, haven’t really been able to capitalize on the weaknesses of their rival. Many considered Hillary Clinton’s winning the election over Donald Trump a slam-dunk in light of the hateful rhetoric and apocalyptic visions hurled around indiscriminately by Trump and his followers, and maybe they were as out-of-touch as those in whom they believed. But Hillary was a flawed candidate, and the Dems, loyal to a fault and somewhat naïve in the belief “love trumps hate,” stuck by her, only to have the Republican Party nominee take the election despite losing the popular vote, and to have the Republicans retain control of the House and Senate.

They lost, in large part, due to what can only be termed as an abandonment of the working class, not to mention a refusal to embrace more progressive policy elements, such as a $15 minimum wage. The fight over Social Security and similar programs is thus a way for Democrats to re-build a bridge to the America below the upper-middle class and top 1% thresholds, but I would argue their commitment has to be stronger. Having talking heads like Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer addressing the issue is great, but all those carrying the blue flag have to be active and vocal in affirming their party’s and their own personal commitment to participating in that fight now—not just when they’re running for re-election. Especially as the minority in Congress right now, that voice needs to be amplified by a singularity of focus from the people with the most immediate opportunity to affect positive change.

On your and my end, meanwhile, I believe the most important contributions we can make are in terms of awareness and involvement. Concerning the former, at any attempts by politicians like Sam Johnson to craft plans which would significantly dilute the power of benefits programs, we should share this knowledge, and increasingly so when a vote is scheduled either in the House/Senate or even when we are asked to cast out ballots on referenda related to this subject. Concerning the latter, regardless of our own party affiliation of that of our elected representatives, we must hold them to their desire to stand with us on ensuring the safety of our hard-earned benefits for generations to come with calls, E-mails, letters and petitions. I may be pulling a bit of a DJ Khaled in referring to an amorphous “they,” but they don’t want to you know what they’re doing to entitlement programs. They don’t want you involved in the political process. That’s how they win. With specific respect to Republicans, and in one more nod to Khaled, in this era of social media and widespread connectedness, they may have just played themselves.

There’s a war going on over programs like Medicare and Social Security. Which side are you on?

American Horror Story: Presidential Election Edition

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Oh, no, America—what the f**k did you do? (Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP Getty Images)

“President-Elect Trump.” Sweet Baby Jesus, I hate the sound of that.

In case you were living under a rock or had recently slipped into a coma and just emerged from your unresponsive state, I potentially have some very bad news for you. Defying the pre-vote polling and forecasting models, Donald J. Trump has won the 2016 presidential election. In one of those lovably quirky outcomes of a system based on the electoral college (read: many people are not loving it right now), Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote, but Trump garnered the necessary 270 electoral votes to carry the day. As of this writing, according to The New York Times‘ election tracker, 279 electoral votes are officially Trump’s, 228 are Clinton’s, and Arizona, Michigan and New Hampshire are still being contested, though CNN is calling Arizona for Donald Trump, and I tend to think no amount of recounting is going to allay that result.

As far as Democrats are concerned, the night was especially bad when factoring in the results of House and Senate races. Prior to the polls closing, Dems had hopes of either the House, the Senate or both turning blue in terms of a majority, but those hopes were quickly dashed when the actual results came in. Republicans will maintain a narrow majority in the Senate, despite losing two seats, and have retained control of the House of Representatives as well. Talk about a whitewash, or “red-wash,” as it were.

Not that I really wish to belabor the the mechanics of how exactly Donald Trump won and Hillary Clinton and supporters of human compassion and understanding lost, but it may be instructive to go into detail for future reference, i.e. preventing any unqualified buffoon like Trump from winning again. Some considerations on how the 2016 presidential race shook out the way it did in terms of the electoral map and what we’ve learned from exit polls:

Regional concerns

Looking at the electoral map at large, there’s an awful lot of red to behold. Clinton carried the bulk of the Northeast and has a nice strip of blue to show for her efforts along the Pacific Coast and Hawaii. The Democratic Party nominee also recorded victories in Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota and New Mexico. But that’s it. When the smoke clears, Trump will likely have won 30 states to Clinton’s 20, owing to his greater share of the popular vote among Midwest and Southern states, as well as those less populous states in the Northwest like Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming.

Perhaps most significantly, Donald Trump emerged victorious in a number of key battleground states, including Florida (29 electoral votes), Iowa (6 electoral votes),  Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20) and Wisconsin (10). That’s 83 electoral votes right there, and if you count Arizona and Michigan as GOP wins, then you’re over the century mark. This is to say that those close contests really did make a difference in this election. Also, Florida and Ohio were instrumental in screwing over Democrats yet again. They can shove oranges and buckeyes up their respective asses right now, for all I care.

Gender

OK, so this one is perhaps no big shock. According to exit polls conducted by CNN (to which I will refer for the rest of the demographic information referenced herein), men, by more than 10%, chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. A similar margin informed women’s votes in favor of Hillary. Is this election, then, a referendum on a woman’s ability to be President/a leader in the United States? Perhaps partially, but that alone does not explain how Trump won so decisively. So, while gender is a factor, let’s not make it out to be some end-all-and-be-all.

Age

Here, too, the splits were pretty stark. Voters 18 – 29 overwhelmingly chose Clinton over Trump, and within the group from the ages of 30 – 44, 50% to 42% were “with her.” Once you get above the age of 45, however, the script flips, as the baby boomers and old codgers among us opted to ride the “Trump Train.” This is not unlike the divide experienced with Brexit, in which millennials and other youths voted overwhelmingly to Remain. In both cases, though, it was the younger voters, arguably, who behaved more like adults.

Race

Gender and age were significant factors in the 2016 presidential race, but the issue of race looms largest. Just look at these tallies. Whites, 58% – 37%, sided with Donald Trump. Non-whites (Asians, blacks, Latinos, et al.), by a whopping 74% to 21%, were in Hillary Clinton’s camp. These disparities are too big to ignore, and prompted CNN contributor Van Jones to refer to the results as a “white-lash,” a portmanteau of “white” and “backlash” which explains the public’s reaction against a changing electorate and a black president.

Looking at the race through the lens of race, it’s kind of hard to argue otherwise. Trump supporters may aver that it’s the Obama administration’s policies which have them so incensed. But when their candidate of choice has been so deficient in the area of policy—be it domestic or foreign—how can they claim to be so principled in their vote? The majority of people who voted for Trump voted based on emotion, not on conscience or principle, and in all likelihood based one or more of the uglier emotions in the human expression at that.

Education

Broadly speaking, voters who have not gone as far in their education (high school or less; some college) tended to go for Donald Trump, while college graduates trended toward Hillary Clinton, and even more so for those with a postgraduate degree. It should be noted, though, that at the intersection of education and race, non-white voters without a college degree voted 75% – 20% for Hillary. In other words, they didn’t need fancy book learnin’ to be able to see through Trump’s bullshit.

Income

Though slight preferences, voters who make $50,000 a year or more tended to cast their ballots for Donald Trump, while voters under that threshold chose Hillary Clinton more often. Hmm, I guess they really don’t want to pay their fair share.

Marital status

For what it’s worth, married voters sided more heavily with Trump, while unmarried voters aligned more frequently with Clinton. It should be noted that even with the subset of married voters, though, it was married men who really brought the overall rates of Trump’s supporters up above the 50% mark; married women showed a minuscule 2% preference for Hillary Clinton. A similar effect was observed for unmarried women pushing up support for Clinton, as unmarried men exhibited a slim bias toward Hillary.

Religion

Christians, by and large, supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Per the CNN exit polls, a majority of Protestants, Catholics, Mormons and other Christians allied with the GOP on Election Day, with white born-again Christians/evangelicals in particular throwing their support for the Republican Party nominee (81% of respondents!). By contrast, Jews, atheists, and those under the broad designation of “other religions” favored Hillary Clinton. To a certain extent, this appears to be another manifestation of the liberal-conservative divide, though noting “Two Corinthians” Trump is not exactly known for his adherence to “the good book,” it’s yet a little surprising.

On the most important issue facing America

As with the earlier discussion of race, results along this dimension are pretty telling. For those voters most concerned with matters of foreign policy or the economy, double-digit majorities voted for Hillary Clinton. For those voters most troubled by immigration trends and terrorism, meanwhile, Donald Trump was their strongman, er, man. The exit poll did not indicate what either side, meanwhile, thought of climate change, keeping with the election’s theme of not giving a shit about the Earth, escalating global temperatures, and declining species. But that’s OK—let’s keep worrying about Mexicans crossing the border.

On which candidate quality matters most

Also speaks volumes about the state of American politics. On whether they thought a particular candidate cares about them, has the right experience, or exhibits good judgment, a majority of respondents indicated this was true of Clinton, but not of Trump. However, on the notion of which candidate is more likely to bring about change, voters who sided with Donald Trump overwhelmingly agreed with this statement. Apparently, experience, good judgment and giving a shit about people are not requirements for the top political office in the United States. The vague concept of change is enough to get you a seat in the Oval Office—even if it turns out that change is distinctly negative.


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Yes, Democrats, you bear some responsibility for Donald Trump’s rise, too. (Image retrieved from latimes.com).

For someone like myself, a progressive-minded white guy residing in a state, New Jersey, in which a majority of voters did not choose Donald Trump, the results of the election were pretty damn disappointing. I feel powerless. I feel scared. I feel as if I should be apologizing on behalf of white people everywhere for ushering in a candidate who has made appeals to our baser tendencies his way of interacting with the world and who has inspired a culture of bullying that parents have passed on to their children, leading to harassment and taunts on school playgrounds. And as bad as I feel, I feel worse for those segments of the population who stand to be most adversely affected by a Donald Trump presidency, especially immigrants and Muslims. We all stand to suffer under President Trump, but realistically, I have had and will have it easier than most.

Regardless of any tiered system of potential personal misfortune, so many people are reacting to the news of a Trump presidency with a mix of raw emotions, and in their anger, disappointment and shock, they likely are looking for someone to blame. Based on the narrative one seeks, there are any number of options for scapegoats. Certainly, in a few of those aforementioned battleground states, having names like Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and even Harambe stealing votes was not inconsequential. I’ve talked about this subject at length, and to this charge of “spoiling” the election for Hillary Clinton, I say phooey. Ralph Nader, accused of the same “crime” in 2000, talks about this phenomenon as political bigotry perpetrated and perpetuated as a result of the two-party oligarchy represented by the Democratic and Republican Parties. Not only does this attitude demean the individual’s right to choose, but by meekly giving in to choosing the so-called lesser of two evils, we lose our bargaining power as voters to entice the major parties to put forth policies that authentically reflect the needs of the electorate. The onus is—or at least should be—on the major party and the major-party candidate to convince the voters he or she is the best choice to lead the country. Gary Johnson was never going to win the presidency, but to intimate that he or any other candidate cost Hillary the election is a falsehood.

OK, so if blaming the Libertarian Party or Green Party candidate is disingenuous, who instead might be deserving of our scorn? Some disenchanted Democrats point to James Comey’s 11th-hour revelation that the FBI had reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s E-mails, as well as apparent attempts by Vladimir Putin and Russia to meddle in the U.S. election by hacking the private E-mails of prominent Democratic Party officials. On the latter count, while few would relish the idea of foreign governments influencing our domestic political affairs, the counterargument can be made that the hacks are merely exposing the kinds of attitudes and secrets the American people deserve to know. On the former count, meanwhile? While, again, the truth should be known regarding possible wrongdoing, what good does the announcement of the reopening of the E-mail investigation so close to the day of the election do? James Comey’s reputation had already taken a hit in the decision not to press charges in the first place. This just further undermines his and the Bureau’s credibility. With confidence in public institutions eroding year after year, these shenanigans just grease the wheels of a flaming car careening down a winding mountain path.

Ultimately, though, it’s Hillary Clinton’s use of one or more private E-mail servers and unencrypted mobile devices which prompted the FBI and Comey to intervene. Besides, the Bureau director himself can’t be held responsible for the rise of Donald Trump in the first place. Might we, therefore, look to groups of people/organizations and trends in politics rather than individual people and dead zoo-bound gorillas? You know, beyond the obvious in those who voted for Trump, because they evidently don’t know any better? Robert Reich, in a recent piece on his blog, weighed in on the three biggest enablers to Donald Trump’s path to the presidency. You probably can guess them offhand, but here they are in writing, just to make sure we are on the same page:

1. The Republican Party

When you allow an asshat like Donald Trump to become your party’s nominee, um, yeah, you’re culpable in this regard. As Reich explains, Trump’s racism and xenophobia, while extreme, are not out of character for more recent iterations of the GOP, nor is his “disdain of facts” and the due processes of law and lawmaking. In other words, Donald Trump may be among the Republican Party’s worst examples, but he’s not the only one.

2. The media

Conservatives and right-wing extremists already had a bone to pick with the mainstream media due to perceived liberal bias. Now, liberals have a legitimate gripe against this same institution with respect to all the free advertising they gave Donald Trump, and if public confidence in networks like CNN suffers catastrophically in the coming years, we might look back on this moment and know why. In no uncertain terms, major news outlets gave Trump a megaphone in exchange for a ratings grab, all the while failing to truly vet him as the unqualified candidate, shady businessman, and reprehensible person he is—at least not until it was too late, and even then, they underestimated the depth of Trump’s appeal. And Fox News can eat a dick. Just for general principles.

3. The Democratic Party

Wait, but the Democrats ran extensively against Donald Trump. How can they be blamed for his ascendancy? This is perhaps Robert Reich’s most damning round of criticism and seemingly so in light of what would appear to be higher expectations for the Democrats, evidently unfounded after this electoral debacle. Within the larger fault-finding of the Dems as enablers, Reich points to specific failures of the party in representing the needs of working-class Americans, including:

  • Forsaking the working class in favor of Wall Street money and other big-ticket donations, as well as seeking votes primarily from upper-middle-class suburban households in areas designated as important voting blocs (i.e. “swing” states).
  • Failing to protect jobs and wages while in control of one or more congressional houses.
  • Pushing job-killing free trade agreements under the Clinton and Obama administrations.
  • Allowing corporations to chip away at the bargaining power of unions or to violate labor laws without meaningful consequences.
  • Permitting antitrust laws to stagnate or otherwise become less effective, paving the way for larger corporations and consolidation of power within industries into the hands of the few.

You can feel free to argue the relative merit of Robert Reich’s assertions, but for the Democratic Party, as well as the other two enablers, it would seem that each needs to some soul-searching, because it’s a sure bet each of these parties dislikes one or more aspects of a Donald Trump presidency, including the press, who may find themselves at a disadvantage if Trump’s intention to weaken First Amendment protections of publications against claims of libel/slander actually comes to pass. The pertinent question, though, as Reich frames it, is whether or not these enablers have learned anything from the results of this election, and I would tend to doubt they have—at least not yet. They don’t call them the stages of grief for nothing, and if the hashtag #NotMyPresident trending the day after the election is any indication, those not thrilled with Trump’s victory are still a way’s away from acceptance. This includes, of course, those responsible in part for Donald Trump’s rise accepting their responsibility.


Not only do I personally agree with Robert Reich’s assignment of culpability in these three instances, but I embrace his call for a reformation of the Democratic Party, if not the need for a new political party or more enthusiastic recognition of third parties. In a follow-up to his piece on the role of the GOP, the media, and the Democrats as Trump enablers, Reich builds on many of the same themes, but in a more provincial context that directly confronts the necessity for change within the Democratic Party. From the opening of his essay:

As a first step, I believe it necessary for the members and leadership of the Democratic National Committee to step down and be replaced by people who are determined to create a party that represents America – including all those who feel powerless and disenfranchised, and who have been left out of our politics and left behind in our economy.

The Democratic Party as it is now constituted has become a giant fundraising machine, too often reflecting the goals and values of the moneyed interests. This must change. The election of 2016 has repudiated it. We need a people’s party – a party capable of organizing and mobilizing Americans in opposition to Donald Trump’s Republican party, which is about to take over all three branches of the U.S. government. We need a New Democratic Party that will fight against intolerance and widening inequality.

What happened in America Tuesday should not be seen as a victory for hatefulness over decency. It is more accurately understood as a repudiation of the American power structure.

“Widening equality”—that sounds familiar. Strange. It’s not like anyone talked about this on the campaign trail. Oh, wait—that was Bernie Sanders, and he talked about it LITERALLY AT EVERY F**KING RALLY AT WHICH HE SPOKE. Noting Sanders’ consistent domination of Donald Trump in theoretical presidential election polls pitting the two men from New York against one another, a number of people have played “Wednesday morning quarterback,” if you will, wondering whether or not Bernie could have saved us from “the Trumpocalypse.” Reich, for his part, was a fervent Sanders supporter until the Vermont senator suspended his campaign, at which point both men honorably got behind Hillary Clinton and tried to sell her as an alternative to Trump.

Prior to that, however, Robert Reich consistently made his distinction between Hillary and Bernie. Clinton, Reich insisted, is an accomplished, experienced politician, and indeed was the better candidate to work within the system we have in place now. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, was the better candidate to get us to the kind of political system we desperately need, one not dominated by lavish donations from business executives and Hollywood stars, or too cozy with special interests to insist on practical, substantive reform. A democracy of the people, for the people, and by the people. At the time, Reich’s focus on this progressive agenda seemed a bit remote, even for those like myself who believe in Bernie’s vision, in light of Hillary Clinton’s near-certainty of capturing the Democratic Party nomination.

With Donald Trump pulling off the upset to win the 2016 election, however, and with Hillary Clinton’s march to the White House and into the history books halted perhaps permanently, unexpectedly, Democrats must take a cue from Bernie Sanders and Robert Reich sooner than later and more aggressively pursue policy that would benefit the American people and the planet as a whole. Whereas leading up to the election, the media elites suggested the Republican Party was in shambles, thus enhancing the likelihood that Clinton would win, now, in the overreaction to Trump’s victory, people are saying the Last Rites for the Democratic Party. Perhaps this is mere wishful thinking, but I believe, relative to the GOP, the Democrats, by preaching the virtues of inclusion and equality, are still in a better place than the Republicans in the long term, in spite of their poor showing on Election Day. Sure, right now, Trump supporters are popping off, getting in the faces of those who don’t fit their mold and convinced they personally have won something as a result of their candidate’s electoral college win. And while outward shows of discrimination in its various forms shouldn’t be tolerated, to the extent conservatives and the alt-right might now underestimate liberals and progressives, this could be the silver lining of this debacle. Up until the votes came in, much of the world didn’t see President-Elect Donald Trump coming. Come 2018 into 2020, though, the shoe may just be on the other foot. For the sake of our country and perhaps even the world, I can only hope that’s the case.